Collecting Medical Information for Camp Programs

April 10, 2011

Debbie Marinoff Shupe
Manager, Recreation Services
McMaster University

Many university recreation and athletics programs are in the camp ‘business’. For a whole host of reasons, it’s a great idea — from summer employment for university students, to community building, to fund raising – the benefits to the university are numerous. Are you prepared for this risky business?

When parents register their children in a university camp program, they have high expectations (and rightfully so!). They expect that children will be safe, have fun and learn lots of new skills. They also expect that camp staff will be able to handle any medical emergency that comes their way.

There are many important elements related to running a camp. Collection of campers’ medical information and addressing the first aid needs of campers are just two of these elements.

We’ve seen a marked increase in childhood diabetes, asthma and life-threatening allergies in campers who attend camp programs over the last 10 years. How can we better prepare for campers who may have medical conditions? Is a screening tool required or will a form that asks pertinent medical conditions suffice? What do you do with the form after it is completed?

Most camp programs use some kind of screening form to collect medical information as part of the application process. These forms may range from a complex comprehensive screening form to a few straightforward questions. However, the form is just one step in the screening process. The purpose of the form is to identify medical conditions of individual campers; to prepare staff to deal with these issues; and to ensure that specific protocols are in place for treatment and follow up. There is little point asking parents a whole host of questions to then just file the answers away.

It is therefore important to ensure that the form asks appropriate questions that will assist treating a child in distress. For example, if your form asks if the child has had tonsillitis or previously had an operation, will this information really help a camp counselor treat an immediate problem? On the other hand, knowing that a child has an anaphylactic condition that may require administration of an epinephrine (using an ‘EpiPen’) will greatly assist the counselor to avoid the allergen and be prepared to facilitate administration of the EpiPen.

The screening process really begins with the informed consent form (or Parental consent Form). Parents need to know what the risks are related to the camp program, before making a decision on whether their child’s health and fitness is sufficient to participate. For example, if a child has a medical condition that is exacerbated by intense physical activity, the parent must have sufficient information about the exertion level of the program to make the decision to enroll or not enroll their child in the camp.

If the medical screening form lists every possible medical condition, is this information essential? Some medical forms list a large number of medical conditions that only a doctor can interpret. What a medical condition means to the day-to-day activity of that the child can only be assessed by the parent and physician, and so the informed consent form and identification of risks is an important part of the medical screening process.

Once the medical forms have been received, they must be reviewed by an experienced staff member. If a medical condition is identified by the parent, follow-up is usually required to review things such as medication required (dosage, etc.), situations to avoid, etc.

One way to ensure the forms are reviewed is to hire a summer first aid coordinator, who is an experienced first aider and first aid instructor. The coordinator reviews the forms, makes follow up phone calls with parents and prepares the information that will be shared with the child’s counselor while at camp.

The summer first aid coordinator can also provide first aid training to the camp staff, and deal with all first aid situations that require additional assistance. First Aid training is essential for camp staff. Knowing the possible camp situations and scenarios helps create an on-going staff training program involving practice scenarios and drills of the most common medical conditions and their first aid treatment.

There are also some federal, provincial or state legislation that limit or define the specific information that can be collected by camps. In addition, privacy legislation must also be considered. When creating a screening protocol, always check with your University Risk Manager or counsel for their direction and advice.

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