Meet Karen O'Connell, MD Emergency Medicine and Trauma Center

Karen O’Connell, MD, was nominated for the Patient and Family Advisory Council’s (PFAC) Excellence in Family-Centered Care Award for her project, “Family Presence During Trauma Resuscitation.” The PFAC award was established to recognize and honor individuals, medical units, and teams at Children’s National who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to delivering family-centered care.

For the last three years, O’Connell and her team have been evaluating events in which families are present during the critical moments of their child’s invasive procedures and trauma and medical resuscitation. Under the right circumstances, the family’s presence can be invaluable for the patient, the emergency team and, of course, the family itself.

“The landscape of medicine is changing. Families want to be present and feel it is their right to choose. Parents serve as the primary advocate for their child and want to be involved in all phases of their child’s care, even when critically ill,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell and her team have made it their mission to improve family-centered care, not only at Children’s National, but at hospitals nationwide. So far her research has shown that the presence of a family advocate who is trained and educated in this role is a key component of a family-centered trauma resuscitation protocol, whether the families choose to be with their child or receive regular updates while in the waiting room. Having a family advocate present keeps parents informed and involved in their child’s care, while allowing the responding medical team to focus on the patient and the important tasks at hand. A formal practice guideline was introduced in the Emergency Department in 2006 to give guidance and education to the safe practice of family presence.  

Children’s National is the largest Pediatric Level I Trauma Center in the Washington-Baltimore metropolitan area, providing the highest level of comprehensive care, including a large number of specialized services to trauma patients. Children’s National strives to lead the way in providing excellent trauma care and is constantly looking for ways to improve that care. O’Connell’s work has greatly contributed to both of these aspirations.

For more information, please visit the Emergency Medicine and Trauma Services Department page.

Dr. O’Connell would like to acknowledge the Children’s family presence clinical practice and research team: Jennifer Fritzeen, MSN, RN; Cathie Guzzetta, PhD, RN; Kathleen Brown, MD; Shireen Atabaki, MD; Jim Chamberlain, MD; Philip Guzzetta, MD; Christina Lloyd, RN; Bobbe Thomas; Racheal Townsend; Samira Shahzeidi; and Anne Mecherikunnel, LMSW.

Dr. O’Connell’s research is supported in full by the Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Emergency Medical Services for Children Grant #H34MC10578.

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