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How to talk to the doc: Communicating with your child's pediatrician

Painful earaches, hacking coughs, mysterious rashes and a host of other big and little problems will land you and your child in the same place over and over again: the pediatrician’s exam room.

Pediatrician and babyWith the countless office visits you’ll make, you’ll inevitably get to know your child’s health-care provider quite well.

“The amazing part of my job is seeing a child grow and change over time,” says pediatrician Dr. Ben Danielson, director of Seattle’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic. “The ongoing conversation I get to have with a family is really special.”

How you communicate with your child’s pediatrician can enhance or hinder this important relationship. Recognizing how to effectively communicate will encourage successful appointments and allow the pediatrician to provide the best possible care.

Plan ahead

You typically will only spend 10 to 20 minutes with the doctor, so come prepared with what you’d like to discuss. By writing things down and collecting your thoughts in advance, you’ll appear organized and reduce the chance of leaving the office without mentioning a concern.

“Develop a game plan,” says Dr. Mason Oltman of Tacoma’s Pediatrics Northwest. “If you have multiple issues that need to addressed, discuss with your provider how he or she best likes to go about handling your concerns.”

Convey confidence

Kirkland mom Stephanie Hoover recommends being confident and assertive when talking to your child’s pediatrician. “You know your child better than anyone, so if you feel there is cause for concern, press the issue,” she says.

At just 3 weeks old, Hoover’s youngest daughter, Paige, was diagnosed with bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the respiratory tract.

“We had taken Paige to the doctor once, and they said she had a bad cold, but things got worse,” recalls Hoover. “When we returned to the office, we were very firm about getting her the care she needed, because we knew she was really sick.”

Be concise

Make the best use of the brief time you spend with the pediatrician by being concise and to the point. “When discussing your concern, include the important details, but try to avoid information that doesn’t contribute to the medical story,” says Oltman.

The doctor may try to steer the conversation to create a picture of what’s going on, but always chime in if you feel the information isn’t accurate. “We try to keep things moving,” explains Oltman. “But if something is confusing or you don’t feel heard, ask questions.”

Trust medical expertise

Let the pediatrician do his or her job. “Your child’s doctor has spent a lot of years in medical school and residency and has seen what works and what doesn’t,” says Oltman. “It can be challenging when parents come into the office and believe their method is better than our method.”

Oltman has encountered parents who trust advice found on the Internet more than his own expertise. “It’s disconcerting when parents use resources that aren’t medically sound,” he says. “Our primary goal is to take care of your child to the best of our ability.”

Clarify the plan of action

Write things down or request handouts to make sure you understand what’s happening with your child’s health. “You should expect your provider to be clear and to explain why they are going to do what they are going to do,” says Oltman.

Another way to ensure you really grasp what’s going on during the appointment is to bring a friend or family member along who can serve as another set of ears. “That person can help you review information and make for a more fruitful visit,” says Danielson.

Abbey McGee is an Everett-based freelance writer and mother of two.


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