Recently, I examined a 3-year-old boy because he had been suffering from a fever for more than four days. His mom had tried some home remedies, but the fever persisted.
I examined the boy and discovered he had a bad ear infection. I recommended a course of antibiotics, which would get the infection under control and relieve the child's pain.
"No, I won't do that," this mom responded.
She'd apparently been reading about antibiotics and how doctors overuse them, even for viruses for which they are ineffective. On this point she was correct, but I explained that her son had a clearly diagnosed ear infection. Without proper treatment, the consequences could be quite serious. The mom finally agreed to the antibiotics, and after a few days, her son was back to normal.
Parents may think, Why argue with the doctor? Others may agree with the mother, believing doctors are too quick to medicate children.
In recent years, there has been increased suspicion about physicians' motives for practicing medicine. This is due in part to health-care changes, but also to the ease with which parents can research and discuss medical topics online. There's some good information out there, but there's also much bad information, which may cause parents to feel that they cannot fully trust their pediatrician to have their child's best interest at heart.
Some pediatricians may have suspect motives, but I'm convinced that the vast majority of these professionals love their jobs because they genuinely care for children. Here are five ways to enjoy a positive relationship with your child's pediatrician so your child gets the best possible care:
Find a pediatrician you're comfortable with
I once read that one out of every four people whom pediatricians meet will have a negative impression of them. I'm not sure how accurate that figure is, but there is some truth to it. Not all parents are going to mesh with their child's pediatricians. Sometimes it may simply be that your personalities do not work well together.
Having a good relationship with your child's pediatrician is important, so if your personalities are clashing, it's OK to switch doctors, even to a doctor in the same medical practice. I have heard many patients say that they don't want to switch doctors because they are concerned about hurting the doctor's feelings. Please don't worry about this. We understand that we are not going to click with every patient. In my practice, we have had patients move from one doctor to another, and I have never heard a physician complain about it. We want you and your child to feel comfortable at all times.
Become well-read about your child's health
In my experience, the more parents know about their child's health needs, the better. That means that most pediatricians want you to learn the developmental milestones your child should be reaching or when antibiotics should be administered. Your interest makes our jobs easier and makes the care we provide more effective.
However, it is critically important to read reputable materials. Sources that relate anecdotal stories in order to frighten parents can do more harm than help. Seek medical information from well-researched books and websites created by medical professionals with good reputations.
Talk openly with your child's pediatrician
Some parents think pediatricians just want to tell them what to do, so they're reluctant to ask questions or discuss our expert advice. But pediatricians understand that parents are our patients, too, and there needs to be constructive dialogue between the pediatrician and parent. We quickly learn that if we cannot communicate with parents, then we cannot adequately care for children.
If you don't ask questions and openly express your concerns, your relationship with your doctor will begin to fall apart. The mother who was initially skeptical of my antibiotic prescription was open about her concerns. That allowed us to have a conversation about her concerns, which led to a positive outcome for her child.
Ask about credentials
Pediatricians are constantly learning. We must read the latest research, keep up with new medications, understand new diagnostic tools and research the changes with immunizations. We are required to log a certain number of medical education hours every year, as well as face periodic national board exams. We are aware of medical progress, and we use best practices to improve our care of your children. When you take your child to a qualified pediatrician, you can be confident that he or she is keeping up with the latest information in a field that is constantly changing.
Some parents may question whether their child's pediatrician is fully qualified, wondering if the doctor is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. If you are unclear, do not be shy about asking to see the doctor's credentials. Many pediatricians place their certificates in a public area so parents and patients can see them. And when you talk with your pediatrician, it is always OK to ask questions about his or her practice and qualifications.
Understand that red tape can sometimes affect the care your child receives
Pediatricians are more regulated than most parents realize. Gone are the days when doctors could independently decide how long to keep a sick child in the hospital, what to charge for a well-child visit and what options to give parents. In many large cities, pediatricians don't run their practices. They are employees of a hospital or other medical facility. This is actually frustrating to many doctors because we don't have full control over patient care.
Worse, many insurance companies monitor our performance. This may sound good on paper, but what this really means is that a group of people — oftentimes people who are not medically trained — create a list of "good practices" that pediatricians are required to complete. On-time vaccinations are one of those "good practices." If you are looking for a pediatrician and the receptionist asks whether you are willing to immunize your child, she's not trying to be pushy. The pediatricians in that office are under pressure to immunize their patients on time.
The goal of most pediatricians is to help you get the best care for your child. Although health-care professionals must work within the constraints of external regulations, your child's doctor has the same goal you do: to keep your child healthy.Dr. Meg Meeker is a pediatrician in Michigan and a best-selling author of several books on parenting healthy kids.
What If Your Doctor Lets You Down?
Every physician is a human being, and people sometimes make mistakes. For doctors, some of the mistakes have dire consequences. Thankfully, for most doctors there are enough checks and balances to keep the fallout of those mistakes to a minimum. One of the best checks is parental intuition.
Parents, never stop listening to that small voice inside you that asks, Are you sure this is right? If the pediatrician's words don't sit well with you, trust your instincts and speak up.
Recently, I learned of one mom's experience with her child's pediatrician. She took her 13-year-old son to the doctor. After the checkup, the pediatrician advised the boy (in front of his mother) that he could begin having sex when he felt "ready." This doctor recommended using condoms, but his willingness to sidestep the parents on this issue surprised me. And from a medical standpoint, I questioned whether this doctor was familiar with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's report about how the U.S. currently suffers from a sexually transmitted disease epidemic, which has in recent years hit teens the hardest.
Doctors, teachers and sex educators do make mistakes. And they are in no way immune from the pressures and agendas of our culture. That's why parents need to be informed, and listen to their instincts.