Build a harmonious relationship with your child's doctor.

doctor checking baby's heartbeat
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Let's face it: Pediatricians are busy people (and growing ever busier), but taking the time to establish a good relationship with your child's doctor can have a positive impact on your child's health and well-being. These six tips can help you keep the lines of communication open.

1. Be phone smart. If you have a routine question that doesn't require an office visit or urgent care, find out when and how you should contact your pediatrician. Some doctors have special phone-in times, during which they (or a nurse/nurse practitioner) will answer questions about medications, minor illnesses, or behavioral issues, such as temper tantrums. Other doctors prefer to answer such questions through e-mail. If you want to speak to the pediatrician directly, call during office hours if possible.

However, if your child has any of these symptoms, call your pediatrician's office right away to find out whether he needs to be seen:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea that persist for more than a few hours
  • A rash, especially if it's accompanied by a fever
  • Any cough or cold that doesn't improve in several days or that worsens and is associated with a fever
  • Cuts that might require stitches
  • A limp or the inability to move an arm or leg
  • Ear pain or drainage
  • A sore throat or difficulty swallowing
  • Sharp or persistent pains in the abdomen
  • A fever (of any temperature) in a baby younger than 3 to 4 months of age
  • Fever and vomiting at the same time
  • Loss of appetite for more than a day

Before speaking to your doctor, write down any specific questions you may have. Be sure to take your child's temperature and jot it down.

During the phone call, be as explicit as possible about your child's symptoms (saying, for instance, "He has a 102 temperature and vomited three times last night"). Tell the doctor whether your child is taking any prescription or nonprescription medication, and remind her of any chronic or past medical problems. Also, be prepared to write down any instructions she gives you.

2. Be focused. It also helps to be armed with written questions and concerns before any visit to a pediatrician's office and to introduce them soon after the doctor enters the examining room. Sometimes, however, a pediatrician may ask you to make a separate appointment if she can't address all of your concerns in one visit. For instance, if the doctor is treating your child for a virus or ear infection, she may ask you to return for a more in-depth evaluation of a potential speech or behavioral problem.

3. Be communicative. The more information you give your pediatrician about your child and family, the more she can help you. If there's been a death, divorce, or other disruption in your family, for instance, or if your child is going through a particularly rough time at school or at home, be sure to tell the doctor. If she can't help you with the problem herself, she may be able to refer you to a specialist or other resource who can.

4. Be realistic. On the other hand, don't expect your doctor to be a "miracle worker." Many parents today expect their pediatrician to prescribe antibiotics or other drugs when they're not necessary, and when a "wait-and-see" approach may be more beneficial to their child's health. The bottom line is to trust your doctor's judgment on medical issues. But if you're clearly uncomfortable with a specific diagnosis or treatment, seek a second opinion.

5. Be thorough. Before leaving the pediatrician's office, be sure you fully understand any instructions the doctor has given you, particularly regarding lab tests, follow-up visits, or medications. (It helps to take notes in the exam room, if possible.) If the doctor uses "medical speak," ask her to explain things to you in simpler terms. Also, be sure to let your doctor know if a prescribed medication isn't working, or if your child develops worsening or additional symptoms.

6. Be honest. Finally, don't be afraid to give your pediatrician feedback about your office-visit experience. Tell her if you felt rushed during the appointment, if the support staff was rude to you, or if you needed more information about a prescription or procedure. A good doctor will want to do her part to work with you and provide the best care possible for your child.

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; The Nemours Foundation

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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