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How to Get the Most From Your Pediatrician

You're the Expert

Be the expert. As part of this doctor-parent team, your role is to be a keen observer and accurate reporter of any worrisome changes you notice in your child because you're the top expert on his body and temperament. My favorite example of this involves a blind mother in my practice who brought her baby to my office to check out a rash. Though I couldn't find anything wrong with his skin, because of her persistence, I asked her to bring him back the next day. Sure enough, when they returned, her infant had an obvious viral rash covering his entire body. Because his mom was so used to the normal feel of her baby's skin, she actually felt the rash the day before I could see it.
It's this simple: You're with your child day in and day out, and no one else is as invested in his well-being. That's why it's important to trust your instincts and never let the doctor dismiss your concerns or observations.

Play doctor. Make sure you can clearly express what those concerns are. Before going to the pediatrician's office when your child's sick, imagine you're the doctor. Ask yourself what you (as the pediatrician) would want to know: When did he become ill? How did it begin? Does it seem to be getting better or worse? What home treatment have you given? Write down the answers to these questions.

Do your own physical exam too. Undress your child and look her over from head to toe. Make a bulleted list of all your worries. I love it when parents get right to the point, pull out a list, and volunteer what they think the problem might be. More times than not, they're right  -- and I value their natural ability to see subtle changes and hidden clues in their children that I may not notice.
Remember: The more information you can give your pediatrician, the more likely it is that you'll leave the office with the right diagnosis and treatment plan. But don't stop there. In the same way you keep a record of your child's immunizations and illnesses, make a "what works" list too. When prescribing advice or medication, your doctor will rely heavily on what has worked well for your child in the past. For instance, if he's deciding which antibiotic to give her, you might remind him, "The first antibiotic you prescribed gave her terrible diarrhea, but the last one seemed to work better."

Stick to the point. If your child wakes up with a sore ear and your pediatrician manages to work you in between already-scheduled checkups (doctors leave open short time slots for such spur-of-the-moment cases), don't try to squeeze in a "doorknob" question. That's what I call those queries that come at the end of an appointment, after I've diagnosed the problem, prescribed treatment, and have my hand on the doorknob of the examining room, ready to exit. Then a parent interjects, "By the way, Ryan's teacher says he might have ADD. What should we do?" Complex medical problems don't have quick and easy answers, and shouldn't be brought up during an impromptu visit for an entirely different issue.
Instead, schedule a more extensive appointment for another day. To make sure you get enough time for an in-depth appointment, tell the receptionist the nature of the problem and request a longer visit, or ask if the doctor reserves certain hours or days of the week for extended consultations. An insider tip: The first appointment of the morning and the one following lunch are those in which she's typically not running late or concerned about a full waiting room, so you're likely to get a few extra minutes from her.