Angie's LIST Guide to
Children's Hospitals

At a children’s hospital, you’ll find a staff of pediatricians and pediatric specialists among the same amenities as traditional hospitals. These hospitals are often the last resort for very ill children.


girl in hospital bed plays with therapy dog
Children's hospitals are specially staffed and equipped to treat rare diseases that mostly affect children (Photo by Brandon Smith)

Visiting a children's hospital

Medical professionals at children's hospitals understand child physiology and mentality better than most staffers at traditional hospitals. Doctors on staff can handle children's smaller size during surgeries and are certified in pediatrics. With specialized staff, these hospitals can more capably treat those rare diseases that affect mostly children.

Children's hospitals also understand families. The staff understands the parent's need to protect their child, recognizes the cost of having a sick child and sympathizes with a parent's complicated life. The staff also understands the conflicting demands of work, home and hospital. Every hospital is different, and some hospitals are also research facilities. Some even treat children at no cost, subsidized by fundraising and minimizing expenses. These hospitals often specialize in rare children's diseases, which may help in reaching a diagnosis and treating symptoms when other doctors can't. This means your child may receive cutting-edge care and be surrounded by other children who face similar illnesses during their appointments, hospital stays and outpatient treatments. This allows children to make friends and know they aren't alone.

You'll find at least one children's hospital in each of the continental 48 states, but parents have to travel, often long distances, to reach them. Sometimes parents have to cross state lines to find a children's hospital capable of giving their ill child the best chance of surviving. This often means greater transportation and hotel expenses. Depending on the disease, parents and children might have to travel back and forth several times for treatment. If older children are involved in a given family, complications in caring for those children might arise, along with complications in their emotional well-being, including their reactions to their parents' being away.

Children's vs. traditional hospitals

Although children's hospitals specialize in children that doesn't mean your child needs to use one exclusively until he or she turns 18. You don't want to travel a long distance for something your local hospital can do. If your child breaks a leg or experiences an injury requiring immediate attention, don't limit yourself to a children's hospital. A local hospital can fix a break or stitch a cut just as effectively as a hospital specializing in children (and maybe even better).

If your child has chronic symptoms or if you aren't getting any answers from your doctor or hospital, consider setting up an appointment with a children-focused hospital instead. If your pediatrician diagnoses a rare disease or recommends going to a children's hospital, set up the appointment as soon as possible. If your child has a long-lasting disease, such as diabetes, a hospital specializing in children may help you find cutting-edge treatment to allow your child the greatest quality of life. Children-focused hospitals are better equipped to give your child the best care possible when day-to-day life is at stake.

To help in researching both traditional and children's hospitals, especially for your child's condition, check Angie's List for member ratings and reviews from other parents.

When to choose a children's hospital

You should consult with your pediatrician before electing to take your child to a hospital specializing in children. Children's hospitals have specialties just like traditional hospitals, including strong cancer, diabetes or cardiac departments. These hospitals can still diagnose or treat any ailment, but the research and experience in the specialty often leads to a faster diagnosis. These hospitals also are up-to-date on the latest research, and possibly even doing research in their specialty.

Getting into a children's hospital may not be as painless as going to a traditional hospital. Depending on the hospital, your doctor might need to send your child's record to the hospital to make sure that the hospital can help your child. Some need a referral from your doctor. Others serve their community by appointment. Children's hospitals give your child the greatest chance of surviving to adulthood when survival is in question.

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