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Published: Mar 27, 2023 6 min read

You’ve probably heard it before: children are not little adults. So, when your child is sick — really sick — the last thing a parent needs to worry about is finding the best pediatric care. Serious conditions like cancer, congenital abnormalities, severe respiratory issues or neonatal intensive care require optimal medical treatment at the right facility, by physicians who are experts in pediatric medicine.

It’s incredibly stressful for parents, who must navigate a new world on behalf of their child. It’s a world with its own jargon and without much publicly available information to help them make the right care decisions. It’s hard to even know what questions to ask about quality, safety, training, outcomes, cost and other important benchmarks. Money’s list of Best Pediatric Hospitals can help with that decision making. It evaluates the top specialty facilities throughout the U.S., on these and other key data points as well as qualitative issues, like patient experience.

Children's hospitals are essential providers, setting the standard for the highest quality pediatric care while training the next generation of pediatricians, according to the Children’s Hospital Association. In 2019, there were 5.2 million pediatric hospitalizations, and most — 76.7% — were for newborns and infants under 1 year of age.

Children deserve and need age-appropriate care, geared to their unique condition and evolving stages, according to Raed Khoury, vice president of quality, patient safety, clinical value and physician operations at Valley Children’s Healthcare, a 358-bed, award-winning pediatric hospital, in Madera, California. “Our vision is to provide the nation's best health care for kids,” he said.

Valley Children’s has served more than 1.3 million children, regardless of ability to pay. “We've set up goals and strategies to be the best in quality, the best in access, which is another component of quality,” Khoury said. Everyone at Valley Children’s is committed to continuous quality and safety improvement — making every day better than the day before, which Khoury cited as the building block for the hospital’s success and its multi-year designation as a top children’s hospital.

“One big advantage of children’s hospitals is that they are totally tuned into young patients. That’s all they do and see, and so their approach is through the eyes of a child,” wrote Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, a board-certified pediatrician and author of The Smart Parent's Guide: Getting Your Kids Through Checkups, Illnesses, and Accidents.

Children’s hospitals are generally safer, and have fewer complications and lower mortality rates than kids getting care in adult hospital settings according to Trachtenberg, an assistant clinical professor of Pediatrics at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

What to look for in a pediatric hospital

Pediatric inpatient needs are unique when it comes to policies, equipment, facilities and personnel, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Make sure to choose a pediatric facility with prominent pediatric specialists who are experienced in your child’s condition.

What’s most important are the outcomes, Khoury explained. There’s only a razor-thin margin for any error. That’s why those who work at children’s hospitals have to elevate their performance to the next level of excellence every day. Khoury suggested that parents ask as many questions as possible of the hospital and its physicians.

For example, if your child has cancer, ask about remission rates for your child’s specific form of the disease. If a child needs heart surgery, ask the pediatric surgeon about the number of operations they perform annually at that facility and the success rate for children with similar conditions.

How to research a pediatric hospital

Safety and quality are important in every health setting, but are paramount when it comes to caring for children. Ask about negative events like central line infection rates and other hospital-acquired infections, as well as frequency of medication errors, even for routine procedures. Hospitals that are committed to quality and safety are transparent about their quest to eliminate preventable harm and “never” events — and they will make this information public on their website.

It’s also helpful to find out how the hospital approaches fiscal responsibility and efficiency. Do they use evidence-based guidelines, delivering the right care at the right time, to achieve the best possible outcomes?

Talk to other parents. Find out about their experiences: and the emotional or spiritual support they received. Did doctors and nurses explain things in ways that were easy to understand? Does staff take a family-centered approach, making parents an integral part of the care team? Since these hospitals often serve a large, diverse community, you may also want to know how they approach families with limited English proficiency, low health literacy or financial constraints. And for those with older children, find out whether there are policies addressing ethical and legal considerations in decision-making and treatment.

While it’s a place no parent wants their child to be, our list of the Best Pediatric Hospitals can help you make the best decision if your child needs medical care for a serious illness or condition.

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