Between time spent on electronic health records in between appointments, large patient loads and productivity measures that some practices are subjected to, pediatricians don’t have a lot of time to spend with their patients.
In fact, nearly half of parents said their pediatricians spend between 11 and 20 minutes with their children for well visits and approximately one-third said they get less than 10 minutes of time with the doc
Since your child’s appointment includes having his height and weight charted, undergoing health screenings and getting his vaccines, there leaves little time to have your questions answered and concerns addressed. A rushed visit can also mean you’re more likely to miss important information or even make mistakes once you get home.
Although the visits aren’t going to get any longer, you can maximize them and make it time well spent for your child’s health.
Make a list.
Spend a few days making a list of your questions and concerns and write down the challenges you’re having.
“The parents that come in with those questions well defined in their minds are more likely to make sure they get the questions addressed,” said Dr. Joan Meek, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ section on breastfeeding and a professor of clinical sciences for the Florida State University College of Medicine.
When making your list, ask your partner, caregivers and family members if they have questions or concerns so you won’t have to call back or play phone tag with the doctor.
“Being prepared with those questions before you arrive will save a lot of headache after you leave the office,” said Dr. Natasha Burgert, a board-certified pediatrician in Kansas City, Mo.
Have an agenda.
Depending on how much time you have, you may only be able to address three of your most pressing questions. Decide beforehand what is most important and be sure to tackle those first. Then if there’s more time, you can talk about less urgent matters.
If you have an infant, your child will have well visits every month or every few months during the first two to three years. Although you’ll want to review what has happened since your last visit, you should also ask your pediatrician about the developmental milestones that are coming up and discuss what you want to accomplish by the next visit.
If you’re well-equipped with information now about how to tackle milestones like potty training, it may help you be more successful than if you never mentioned it to your doctor in the first place.
Send a letter.
If you’re dealing with a developmental, academic or emotional problem with your child, send the pediatrician a letter or an email before the visit so she will know what’s going on. Whether it’s a divorce, a death in the family or your child is being bullied, let the doctor know so she won’t make assumptions about why your kid is struggling, Burgert said.
Remember that your pediatrician isn’t judging you, so if you’ve decided to stop breastfeeding, want to space out your child’s vaccines, or you’re not able to follow through on a specific plan, be honest about it and express your concerns.
“Without having an honest discussion, it’s only going to set both of us up for frustration,” Burgert said.
Ask for vital information.
If your baby’s crying or your toddler’s clamoring for your attention, it can be hard to listen and remember what the doctor said.
Ask your doctor if he can give you patient education handouts or can recommend trusted resources where you can read more.
If you don’t understand, the information doesn’t make sense or your doctor hasn’t explained it properly, ask questions so you don’t feel frustrated, confused, or that your concerns are being brushed aside, Meek said.
Get medication dosing charts.
A study in the journal Pediatrics found that 65 percent of medication-related visits (MRVs) to the emergency room are preventable, a study in the journal Pediatrics found.
To prevent serious medication mistakes, ask for updated lists of recommended medications or over-the-counter remedies, and review the dosing charts and conversions with the doctor before you leave the office.
If you’re not entering notes about the visit, put your phone away until you leave.
“I’m amazed everyday of families that have waited weeks or months to come and see me and will text throughout the entire visit,” Burgert said.
Ask for more time.
If you need more time with your pediatrician, request another appointment preferably at the end of the day when there’s more time or ask to have a follow-up call.
If however, you’re still not satisfied with the amount of time you have and the care your child receives, “then that’s probably a good time to look for another practice,” Meek said.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.