Q: After living in the same town for years, my family recently moved and we need to establish care with a new pediatrician. Any tips on how to build a good relationship with my children’s new doctor?
A: Even if your children are relatively healthy, it is a great idea to establish care with a primary care pediatrician (a “medical home”) immediately after you move. It is difficult to get in for a sick visit with most practices if you have not established well-child care there. Thus, since you never know when the first episode of strep throat will strike, it’s best to have a pediatrician from the time you move. Certainly, asking neighbors and soon-to-be co-workers which practices/doctors they trust is a good start (as are message boards). Make sure you check to see if there are any restrictions on the insurance you have.
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If possible, bring a copy of your child’s medical records, vaccine records, medication list and growth charts to your new physician’s office (even better: have these records faxed/mailed ahead of time). It is difficult to know if your child needs any vaccines without seeing what they have already received! This can help your new pediatrician get a sense of where to focus the initial visit(s).
Some other tips that will get you in the good graces of your pediatrician:
1) Arrive early or on time for your appointment. While most pediatricians do run behind, it is only made worse if patients arrive late. If you arrive late, we may not be able to spend as much time with you as we would like.
2) If you have a list of questions/concerns, let your pediatrician see that list when he or she first walks into the exam room. If you wait until the end of the visit to show this list, it will be impossible to address most of the questions and the most important one might go unanswered. Don’t be shy about having a list – I would rather see a list and know what to spend time focusing on than have questions go unasked (and thus unanswered).
3) Please do not speak on your cell phone (or play games on your iPhone) when your physician is in the room examining your child. Not only is it distracting, but it also sends a message to your child that his or her health care is not a priority.
4) Treat the receptionists and nurses as politely as you would want to be treated. I assure you that they tell the pediatrician who has been naughty and who has been nice!
To be fair, there are some responsibilities of the pediatrician in this relationship:
1) Your pediatrician should truly listen to your concerns, even if he or she believes your child does not have any abnormalities. While it’s not always appropriate to order tests suggested by a parent, it is always inappropriate not to listen.
2) When (not if…) your pediatrician is running behind, their staff should be courteous and keep you updated on how long your wait should be. It is inevitable that we will run behind – it is estimated that we would need 23 hours to cover everything that we should in a check-up and we only get 15 minutes! However, you should feel as if your time is respected/valued as well.
3) Your pediatrician should let you know that even if there are too many concerns to cover adequately during your visit, they hope to schedule follow-up appointments with you as often as needed to address your other questions/concerns.
There are many differences between pediatricians, even within a practice. When I am asked for advice about how to know you’ve chosen the right pediatrician for your child, my response is always, “If your pediatrician tells you that your child is all right, you will be able to sleep that night without worrying that they missed something.” Even if you have the “smartest” pediatrician in the world, if you do not trust them, it is impossible to have a good relationship with them.
Brian Eichner is a general pediatrician and assistant professor of Pediatrics at Duke Children's Primary Care-Roxboro Street in Durham. He enjoys providing care for children who are healthy as well as those with complex medical conditions. Dr. Eichner also serves as the medical director of the Duke Pediatric Diagnostic Clinic. He and his wife have lived in the Triangle since 2006.