Talking to Your Child’s Doctor

“I have an appointment tomorrow to talk with the pediatrician about my daughter’s condition. I am afraid I won’t be able to take in all of the information. I am feeling so emotional, sometimes what the doctor says is so hard to hear that I just can’t take it all in.”

It’s 3:00 o’clock in the morning and it looks like it’s going to be another sleepless night…

The next day at the pediatrician’s office, you and your child are both blurry eyed, tired and cranky – add to that a hint of worry and a touch of stress, and it’s a wonder you remember anything when you walk out the door. We have learned a few tricks on how you can help your child’s doctor best answer your questions and make the most out of each office visit.

 Here are a few things you can do to prepare.

1.   Jot down your child’s symptoms, for example:

• How many days have they been sick?

• Have they been eating and drinking?

• Have they had a fever? If so how high and for how long? Remember not every child who feels warm has a fever.

• Have they been in contact with any other sick kids or adults? Don’t forget to take into account daycare, playmates, visitors, etc.

• Are they going to the bathroom?

• Are there any other medical conditions of which you need to remind the doctor? Don’t hesitate to gently remind your child’s doctor of any pre-existing conditions.

2.   Make a list of your questions. That is the best way to be sure that you get all your questions answered.

3.   Be aware of and share with your child’s doctor any medical problems in your family, for example diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, etc., and of the frequency and severity of your child’s symptoms.

4.   Always take a pad and pencil with you to your appointment so that you can write down what your doctor says and review it later when you are calmer and have more time to digest the information. A tape recorder is also helpful. Better yet, have a friend or family member accompany you.

5.   Make sure you understand the diagnosis. A few questions you might want to ask are:

• Does my child need any additional testing – x-rays, cultures, blood work?

• If so, when will we know the results? Don’t be afraid to call for the test results if you don’t hear back from the doctor’s office.

• How do you know he has __________?

• Are there other names for my child’s condition?

• How will this affect my child’s body?

• What needs to happen next?

• Is it contagious? If so, who do I need to tell – teacher, daycare, friends, family members, etc? Remember babies and older adults are more vulnerable to any contagious illness.

6.   Make sure you understand the treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask:

• What treatment do you recommend and why?

• Are there alternatives?

• Are there side effects?

• How long before I should see some improvement?

• How will I know my child is improving?

• When should I make another appointment with the doctor?

• Can my child continue going to school/sports/activities during treatment?

7.   Remember, you don’t have to ‘get it all’ in one visit.

Most illnesses, especially serious ones, evolve with time and so does the doctor’s understanding—both of the illness and of your child and your own understanding. Ask—if the doctor doesn’t offer—when you can call/visit with more questions or clarification— especially if information you have received about your child’s health is unclear, startling/new, or complex.

8.   If you need things repeated, ask again.

Don’t be afraid to ask to have information repeated as many times as needed. We want you to have a good understanding of the diagnosis and recommended treatment.

9.   Remember there are no stupid questions – if you don’t understand or don’t know, ask, so you don’t end up back in the office or in the emergency room unnecessarily.

Article contributed by Dr. Michelle Simon, MD, PhD
Pediatric Group of Watsonville, CA and Fellow, American Academy of Pediatrics
Children’s Hospice & Palliative Care Coalition www.ChildrensHospice.Org