Help Them Help Your Child: Pediatricians Share 8 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Appointments

Take steps to maximize your relationship with your child's doctor, and not only will you get better care, but you'll get your money's worth, too.

November 27, 2017
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When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was the quintessential first-time parent. At the turn of my third trimester, I outlined my list of to-dos, and “interview pediatricians” was near the top. I believed, and still do, that a family’s pediatrician is part of their parenting team, part of their village. They need to be there for us in good and bad, sickness and health; finding a provider you trust and understand is crucial.

In the weeks leading up to my daughter’s birth, I met with three pediatricians, and I asked questions. I listened. I waited for a connection. And then I chose.

Your child’s care is my priority, and that’s all that really matters.

For the first few years of my daughter’s life, my husband and I partnered with a pediatrician, a parent himself, in the Pacific Northwest. He was well-researched, didn’t stoke my first-time parent worries, and he even saw us through our first emergency room visit. To him, I’m forever thankful. He ushered me into motherhood and helped me find confidence in myself while offering me the support I needed to properly oversee my daughter’s health.

As a parent, how do you find that partnership? Do you need to interview multiple pediatricians like I did? Maybe. But now, as a mother of four, I actually think the most important thing is learning how to help your chosen pediatrician help your child.

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There are a few things we as parents can do to get on the same page as our care provider. In the sections that follow, a number of pediatricians and experts from the pediatric field will chime in with tips that will allow them to better aid each of us in caring for our littlest loved ones.

Stop doing your own research online.

We employ pediatricians for a reason: they’re experts! In fact, they go to school for at least 11 years. So, when you’re tempted to consult Google, know that you’re most likely fueling your worry with misleading information, and it’s not even close to the help 11 years’ worth of education can provide.

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“As doctors … we strongly advise not looking up symptoms or situations online, as many of those sources aren’t reputable, and you will never truly know the depth of any health situation without proper medical processes,” says Constantine George, MD, a Las Vegas-based pediatrician.

Becky Johnson, a pediatric medical assistant, echoes George’s concern: “Sometimes it is very frustrating because [parents] will come in loaded with their Dr. Google information… [They are] so certain that they’re correct [that] they end up not wanting to listen to the doctor tell them otherwise, and a lot of the time they want a lot of unnecessary tests done on their child.”

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I’ll confess, I’ve been that parent who typed my concerns into Google before calling my pediatrician’s office for an appointment. I think part of me doesn’t want to bother them if it’s not a big deal. Then, thanks to Google, I don’t sleep all night because my child either has a viral rash…or cancer.

Mohan Rayala, MD, a Massachusetts-based pediatrician, doesn’t want parents to ever feel like they’re a bother: “Come in and get your child checked out and ensure your peace of mind. Your physician is on your side and wants to work for what is best for you and your children.”

I, of all people, need to remember that.

Bring a list of questions to each appointment.

Multiple pediatricians I spoke to stressed the importance of preparing a list of questions you hope to discuss at your appointment.

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Nerissa Bauer, MD, a pediatrician in Indianapolis, takes it a step further and encourages parents to prioritize that list: “By honing in on what’s most important, you and the doctor can tackle your biggest concerns first and make the most of the scheduled appointment time.”

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In addition to questions, a detailed timeline or diary of issues provides data which doctors can use to more quickly diagnose, saving you time and money while getting your child back on track. Prepare for doctor’s appointments as if they were a work meeting where you’ll be collaborating with an expert for maximum results.

Don’t be afraid to get personal.

Growing up, I always admired how much effort my pediatrician took in getting to know me and my sisters. She not only knew our health history, but she recalled our dog’s name, knew where we had recently traveled, and always had insight into our hobbies.

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The medical field might not be like the old school home-visit days, but pediatricians still love getting to know their patients. After all, a good relationship between patient and provider results in better care, reported the Harvard Business Review.

Know that doctors have no idea what anything costs.

Well, they have an awareness, but it definitely isn’t their primary concern. That’s why each office has staff committed to billing and liaisons willing to help parents get the care their children need—regardless of cost.

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“Medication [expenses] are very difficult, thanks to insurance companies. The covered and preferred medication lists change on a regular basis. One month, something is covered; the next, it isn’t,” Johnson, our trusty pediatric medical assistant, says. “We encourage our patients to let us know if there is a problem, so that we can try something different. Sometimes when I have to verbally call in a medication, I’ll ask if it is covered by they’re insurance and how much it costs before finalizing it.”

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In the end, parents are responsible for understanding their insurance policy and out-of-pocket expenses.

Trust your nurse.

They might not be able to give the final diagnosis, but nurses and other support staff see a lot, and thus, know a lot.

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“I feel it is a trust system between doctor and nurse/assistant,” says Johnson. “We know our limits of knowledge. And our doctors trust that we will run things by them if we’re unsure and need clarification on something.”

They can help with more than coughs and colds.

“Up to 50 percent of the questions and concerns parents bring up are behavioral,” Bauer says. She provides three very distinct ways parents and providers can partner to make strides in resolving those issues:

  1. “Ask for help outside of the clinic! I frequently makes phone calls to patients’ schools (with parent permission) or even do school observations to discuss behavioral issues and help craft action plans. And sometimes, the behavior issue isn’t a problem at school: I help parents make changes at home in those cases.”
  2. “Don’t be afraid to tell the doctor what you really want to get from the appointment. You will get better advice. If a child isn’t sleeping well, the doctor’s first instinct might be to work on improving the bedtime routine. But if the family’s priority is reducing overall stress (caused by crabbiness and lack of sleep), that’s an important distinction that I can work on right away.”
  3. “Adult anxiety and depression, and even postpartum depression, can impact kids’ behavior. Part of each appointment is spent asking parents how they are doing. If mom or dad is not coping well, I wants to know that. Many times, kids’ behavior issues are resolved by getting the parent the help they need.”

They want you to practice good health habits, too.

Zeshan Qureshi, a London-based pediatrician, reveals his biggest pet peeve when it comes to parents: “Smoking.”

“I completely understand that it’s extremely difficult to give up smoking,” he says, “but I don’t think parents are fully aware of its consequences. Right from the beginning, it increases the risk of stillbirth and miscarriage. Carrying on, it increases [the chance] of a newborn baby [passing away]. Most commonly, I see it in the context of chest infections and asthma. Parents tell me they smoke outside, but the smoke is still on their clothes.”

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“They then say they change their clothes, but its still on their body,” says Qureshi. “They then say they shower, but it’s still in their lungs, and you can’t wash your lungs. I know it’s difficult, but the best thing you can do for your child’s health, as a mother or a father, is give up smoking—right from the moment you are trying to have a baby.”

A doctor’s office is really busy.

“Mondays and Fridays are always the worst,” says Johnson, “The ‘post-weekend and ‘Oh-no-the-weekend-is-coming’ crowds.”

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Actual numbers fluctuate anywhere from 15 appointments to 30, she says, with the cold weather season being the worst due to increased breathing complications. That’s why it’s so important to arrive on time for appointments and have your list of questions and concerns ready when you have the doctor’s attention.

If we don’t get along, it’s okay to part ways.

Not every doctor–patient duo is going to mesh, so if you have found your family at a practice that isn’t working for some reason, it’s okay to end the relationship and move on.

I learned this during my pediatrician interviewing days. The doctor I ended up deciding to see long term closed our initial Q+A with a sentiment along these lines: “If you choose me, I’ll be happy to have you, but if we aren’t a good fit now, or anytime in the future, don’t worry! Your child’s care is my priority, and that’s all that really matters.”

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