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How to Maximize Your Visit to the Pediatrician

Here's everything you need to know, from paperwork to mental prep

Deanna Duff

Published on: July 26, 2016

About the series: The work/family juggle is one of the biggest challenges parents face. In our 2016 special series, Making It Work, we go beyond tired-out debates about “having it all” to explore big issues, real stories and inspiring solutions. Making It Work is sponsored in part by carefully selected partner organizations that are committed to supporting parents and familes. This package is supported by Coordinated Care.

Sarah Lien’s daughter is a model patient. Two-and-half-year-old Audrey has a toy doctor’s kit she brings to medical visits and follows along with her mini-stethoscope. The reward of a sticker afterward is a bonus.

“Audrey loves visiting the doctor. She wants to go when she just has a paper cut!” says Lien, a Lake Stevens resident.

Parents with fussy, fearful youngsters would welcome such enthusiasm. Add in the fact that some office visits are for as little as 15 or 30 minutes, and it can be a stressful situation. Here’s how to make the most of doctor visits every time.

Scheduling 101

When making an appointment, clearly identify the purpose. It helps determine expectations and time required. 

Appointments generally fall within three categories. First, meet-and greets. Many clinics offer these as either in-person or phone appointments to help families become acquainted with a new provider. It lays the groundwork for good communication.

“It’s really important for the parent to trust and feel comfortable with their child’s doctor,” Lien says. “If you’re not, your child may pick up on that.”

Second, well-child checkups. These routine physical exams vary in frequency depending on a child’s age. Babies often have these exams at two weeks and four months, while exams for older children are scheduled annually.

The more detailed you are when making the appointment, the better the office can address your needs.

“We typically review growth and are thinking about the overall health of a child,” says Dr. Traci McDermott of Virginia Mason University Village Medical Center. “There are maybe a few specific concerns expressed by parents, but those are usually limited because there is a lot to cover and time is limited.”

Third, urgent appointments are for more immediate and specific concerns, such as severe flu, infections or injury.

The more detailed you are when making the appointment, the better the office can address your needs. It might even be possible to coordinate with a nurse rather than scheduling an in-person visit.

“One of the best tools available is talking to a nurse,” McDermott says. “Certain things are easily and commonly discussed, such as diaper rash or what to do when a child is vomiting or has diarrhea. Nurses can help determine whether to bring the child in right away, wait a day or talk you through it over the phone.”

If you do go to the office, most appointments average 20 minutes. If you are running late, call ahead to determine if you should reschedule. Missing even 10 minutes may not allow enough time to cover what’s needed.

“I like to schedule for success,” Lien says. “Time of day matters so much. It’s so much easier to plan an appointment before nap time or when you know they won’t be hungry. I call it the golden period, when you know your child will be happiest anyway.”

Prepare the paperwork

Formulate questions beforehand and write them down, if necessary. It’s easy to forget something while attending to your child and listening to the doctor.

“Try to prioritize questions and let the doctor know up front the things that you most want to talk about,” says McDermott. “Since there is limited time, it can really help the doctor maximize the visit. We might spend less time on something we know the parents aren’t as worried about and focus on the questions they really want addressed.”

Also, prepare a list that outlines all of your child’s medications with dosage information.

“Pediatricians need to know everything a child is taking,” says Dr. Yolanda Evans, assistant professor of pediatrics at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “In addition to prescription medication, it’s also very important to include any herbs, supplements, naturopathic treatments and vitamins.”

Outline in advance any other information you can provide. According to Evans, this includes family medical history, recent travel, exposure to illnesses and any major life changes.

“We also look at food intake, allergies and general home life. What are [a child’s] sleep patterns? Playtime is often overlooked, but not enough [play] can become an issue if they’re too stressed,” says Dr. James Kriseman, associate medical director at the Overlake Medical Clinic in Redmond.

Lastly, make the effort to arrive the requested 15 minutes early to fill out forms. This ensures that time with the doctor isn’t devoted to paperwork.

“When you’re seeing a new doctor, bring a hard copy of medical records when you can,” Kriseman advises. “Most clinics are transitioning to electronic health records, but it hasn’t always caught up at the pediatric level.”

Make your child comfortable

Keep in mind that doctor visits are a new experience for young children. Preparing them ahead of time mitigates fear of the unknown.

“I absolutely talk to my daughter about it in advance,” Lien says. “She knows if she’s getting a shot and where it will be, so she’s mentally prepared. I don’t want her to be surprised, which can make it feel scary.”

Communicate clearly and always frame visits as something good for your child’s health.

Evans agrees, both as a doctor and mother to her own 3-year-old. She and her daughter role-play a few days in advance, the night before and then discuss it again during the car ride to the appointment.

“I walk her through what to expect,” says Evans. “A doctor will check her blood pressure, which means something squeezing her arm like a hug. They’ll check her temperature. Most importantly, [I reassure her that] all of that is OK because Mom and Dad are there.”

Communicate clearly and always frame visits as something good for your child’s health.

“Use really positive language that can dampen nervousness,” McDermott says. “Don’t use doctor visits as if they’re a consequence for bad behavior. That can carry over to a child not expressing something when they need to see a doctor.”

Encourage your child to ask questions and contribute information during the appointment.

“Most pediatricians try to have kids even as young as kindergarten or first grade put into their own words how they’re feeling. Sometimes that can be really valuable information,” McDermott says.

Most importantly, think about environment. Lien dresses her children in clothes that are easy to take on and off. She also brings a blanket in case the exam room is chilly. A favorite toy or quick snack, if appropriate, goes a long way toward soothing anxiety.

If your child has an outburst despite your best-laid plans, don’t sweat it too much. It’s all in a day’s work for an understanding provider.

“Most pediatricians are open, receptive and have their own little tricks to help weather those situations and get through challenging parts of the exams,” McDermott says. 

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