Claire McCarthy is a pediatrician at the Boston Children’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School. Like most of us, Dr. McCarthy has a wish list. Unlike a lot of us, McCarthy’s wish list is rather small: just four items. Her wish list defines the four things all parents can do — or shouldn’t do — to make doctor visits more effective, especially when bringing a child in for something other than a routine, well-baby medical visit.
McCarthy understands human nature and is diplomatic enough to understand we all run late sometimes, we sometimes get upset with medical office staff when we’re kept waiting longer than we’d like, and some kids are just more active in a stressful situation, such as a visit to the doctor. Her wish list involves things parents can do before and during face-to-face time with a pediatrician that will help the doctor make a speedy, accurate diagnosis and get the child feeling better quickly.
- No Winging It, Please
At home, keep a running list of questions to ask at the next doctor’s appointment. Bring a list (mental or written) of the details of sick baby symptoms: how many times and how often is a child throwing up, when headaches and other body pains begin, state of the stool if stomach problems prompt the doctor visit, when fever started and its fluctuations, and any medications (over the counter or prescription) the child has been given. The doctor can usually tease these details out of a parent but the more she knows, the better the diagnosis. If someone other than a parent accompanies the child to the doctor’s office, please make sure the caregiver is equally well informed.
- Honesty Is the Best Policy
Don’t withhold information due to embarrassment or in thinking the doctor will think you’re a less-than-ideal parent. As McCarthy states in her blog post at HuffPost Parents, “We aren’t here to judge — and we have seen and heard worse, I promise.” Every detail a parent supplies helps the doctor make the best diagnosis without spending time on misdiagnosing due to guesswork.
- It’s OK to Question the Doctor
Doctors are people; they make mistakes. Sometimes they don’t understand what the parent is telling them, sometimes they say things parents don’t understand, sometimes they give instructions that cannot be followed. Let the doctor know when there are questions or need for clarification. Let them know when, for whatever reason, Plan A won’t work so that Plan B can be devised. Sometimes communication problems signal the need to find another doctor and that’s OK, too.
- Remember You’re On the Same Team
The doctor may have spent many years in medical training but they can’t know anything about your child without your parental expertise and input. Nobody knows your child like you do. Work as a team for the happiest, healthiest children possible and everybody wins.