Parental anxiety and medical comprehension within 24 hrs of a child's admission to the pediatric intensive care unit

Jennifer S. Needle, Maryann O'Riordan, Paul G. Smith

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68 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE:: Admission of a child to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) can create high-parental anxiety. The authors examined the factors that contribute to parental anxiety and the effect of parental anxiety on comprehension of medical information within 24 hrs of a child's admission to the PICU. The physician's recognition of parental anxiety related to their child's hospitalization was also evaluated. DESIGN:: Prospective cohort study with a convenience sample of primary caregivers of critically ill children. SETTING:: Twenty-bed PICU at an urban tertiary children's hospital. SUBJECTS:: The primary caregivers of 35 children with Pediatric Risk of Mortality III scores ≥ 7 admitted to the PICU as well as PICU fellows. INTERVENTIONS:: Parental anxiety was assessed with the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, a validated tool used to measure both the temporary (State) and long-standing (Trait) anxiety in adults. Comprehension of medical information was assessed by an open-ended questionnaire. Physician assessment of parental anxiety was measured by multiple-choice questionnaire. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS:: Of the 34 parents completing the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, 21 (62%) had State Anxiety that was significantly higher than a validated sample of patients with generalized anxiety disorder. The child's need for mechanical ventilation was the only significant predictor of high-parental State Anxiety (p = .03). Among the 28 parents completing the questionnaire of comprehension of medical information, 26 (93%) demonstrated excellent or fair comprehension. Physicians had generally low recognition of parental anxiety but were significantly more likely to rate a parent's anxiety as high if the child was on mechanical ventilation. CONCLUSION:: Parental anxiety is high following a child's admission to the PICU. Physicians failed to recognize high-parental anxiety in nearly one third of the parents. Despite the high anxiety associated with a child's admission to the PICU, parents seem to understand their children's medical issues within the first 24 hrs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)668-674
Number of pages7
JournalPediatric Critical Care Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2009


  • Anxiety
  • Communication
  • Intensive care unit
  • Parents
  • Pediatrics
  • Stress


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