Missing your chemotherapy appointment because you do not have someone to look after your child. Having a hard time rescheduling a doctor’s appointment because your children will be home during the new appointment-time being offered. These are just a couple of examples of why a parent/patient, might struggle with keeping a medical appointment. Childcare services at hospitals could change that.
Women are more likely to be impacted by lack of childcare options than men. This trend became especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers at Parkland Hospital Health System in Texas surveyed 336 women who had children under 13 years of age. They found:
- 74.5% brought their children to a healthcare appointment due to lack of childcare
- 40.6% left their appointment early to pick up their children
- Nearly 90% saw value in access to a daycare center at the hospital
Parkland Hospital’s medical services are used by some of the most vulnerable communities. A majority of their patients are uninsured or underinsured and face health disparities that are integrated with socioeconomic factors such as access to housing and food. Adding childcare issues to the mix further complicates their ability to get to medical appointments.
Why Can’t I Bring My Child to a Medical Appointment?
Because it can be distracting! It’s hard enough for a person to bring up all their questions to a doctor but doing it in front of a young child will lead to the parent prioritizing the child’s needs rather than their own. Researchers studying population health at the University of Oklahoma are trying to understand and address just that.
Using a combination of observational studies and surveying patients and health care providers, the researchers found that young children accompanying a parent to a medical appointment were a distraction. This could impact
- how the patients remember important health-related information from their provider,
- reduce treatment compliance, or
- lead to a lack of follow-up appointments
Based on their findings, the researchers recommend making health facilities more child friendly or providing a dedicated sitter where a child can be looked after during their parent’s appointment.
Some Hospitals and Clinics are Already Providing Options
Following up on the findings, Parkland partnered with Mommies in Need to start Annie’s Place in Fall 2020. Annie’s Place is a complimentary childcare service for children of patients. A shuttle service from the childcare center can drop parents to select clinics at Parkland. Annie’s Place also has a social worker on site who can understand the family’s secondary needs and direct them appropriately. The Center has served more than 200 families till date. It’s important to note that this is not a drop-in service—families have to enroll their child(ren) with Annie’s Place.
Another hospital that provides childcare services for patients who have medical appointments is the Providence Health System in Oregon. My Little Waiting Room is a drop-in childcare service at the hospital’s St. Vincent and Portland sites for children between 6 weeks and 10 years of age. Reservations are needed if the child will be at the Center for more than 90 minutes.
With increasing awareness about this important barrier to access, other health facilities will hopefully follow suit. Enquire with your doctor’s office or hospital if they provide such services on site.
Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist with academic research experience, who brings her skills and knowledge to the health care communications world. She provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.