If you're like most parents, you take your child to the pediatrician for regular checkups, vaccinations, and height and weight monitoring. Of course, you also call the doc when your child is sick. But if these are the only issues you bring up with your kid's physician, you may be missing out on valuable advice. The profession has been changing, and pediatricians today consider issues like preventing obesity, using technology wisely, and even dealing with bullying to be important health concerns they can help kids and their parents navigate. More women in the profession and the trend toward group practices are also changing pediatrics. Parents in the know can take advantage of these changes to get more and better care for their children.
Who's Your Doctor?
Your child's doctor is just as likely to be a woman as a man. In 1993, 40 percent of practicing pediatricians were women, but by 2000 that percentage had risen to 48 percent. The trend continues: A 2010 survey of pediatric residents—brand-new M.D.'s—found that 76 percent are now women.
Many pediatricians are now part of group practices. For patients, that means they may not always be able to see their “regular” doctor, but they will get to know all the doctors in the practice over time. “Do try to make sure you see your own doctor at least every few visits or so,” urges Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “Having a close relationship with at least one of the doctors will help your child feel more comfortable talking about things, and help the doctor get to know the whole child in order to provide better care.”
The Digital Consulting Room
Pediatric practices are starting to adopt websites and newsletters, doctor blogs, and medical e-mail systems to make it easier for families to ask questions and keep track of medical records. From the doctors' perspective, though, technology is a double-edged sword. “It can make your day more efficient, but you have to have a good relationship with your families, too,” says Dr. O'Keeffe, an executive committee member of the AAP's Council on Communications and Media, who founded pediatricsnow.com, a website full of practical health information. “It's a balancing act to make sure your patients still go in and see you. Doctors don't want e-mail to take the place of phone contact or the eye-to-eye contact that takes place during an office visit.”
Even routine well-child visits to the doctor are changing. Sure, your child will still be weighed and measured, and still get the recommended vaccines at the appropriate times. But these days your pediatrician will probably ask a lot more than how your baby is sleeping, or, “How's school going?”
“Some pediatricians who see a lot of little kids are really into nutrition and talk about that a lot,” says Dr. O'Keeffe. Doctors recognize that the best way to halt the obesity epidemic in America is to start kids on a lifetime of good nutrition and healthy activity as young as possible. As your child grows, your pediatrician can help you navigate issues like body image, eating disorders, technology, and cyberbullying.
As the pediatric profession changes with the times, parents should take advantage of their child's doctors for advice on a wide range of issues that are challenging families today. “You can call your doctor and say, ‘My daughter's just told me she got this weird text message; what do you think?’” says Dr. O'Keeffe. “Right now families don't know whom to turn to for help with cyberbullying or even regular schoolyard bullying. Those are health issues, and your pediatrician would be the right person to go to for that. Pediatricians know what kind of pressure families are under, and they can help.”