Clinical researchers from the Institute of Child Health and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, London, in a small study in Archives of Disease in Childhood, are suggesting that well intentioned, but pushy parents, intent on exercising their rights as healthcare consumers, can be bad for their children's health.
The team analysed the health outcomes of 23 children, who had been referred between 1997 and 2001.Their average age was 14, and they had all been diagnosed with severe abdominal pain, with no obvious organic (physical) cause, which had greatly disrupted their lives.
The children were given the normal battery of tests for severe abdominal pain, including blood samples, ultrasound, and endoscopy, in accordance with clinical guidelines.
Of the 23 children, fifteen had already been seen by between two and seven consultants. Seven parents unhappy with the choice of investigations, requested other procedures for which there was no accepted indication and two families had their requests granted through referral elsewhere.
Twelve families made a formal complaint to the hospital or their MP about some aspect of care, and, regardless of the fact that psychological factors are known to have a role in this condition, only 13 families accepted referral to psychological services.
In 12, a significant degree of family conflict/dysfunction and a lack of insight into the consequences of parental behaviour on illness pattern were evident.
Eleven of these children improved after psychological support and resumed normal activities within a year.
Ten families refused psychological help, and only three of these children eventually improved. In each of these three cases, the families had eventually realised the impact of psychological factors.
The researchers in this study illustrate the dangers of 'healthcare consumerism' in families who often lack insight into the root cause of their children's symptoms and say systems are needed to protect the child and perhaps his/her physician from the effects of 'healthcare consumerism'.