Pediatricians today are more pressed for time and resources than ever--but some have found innovative ways to practice medicine that can benefit everyone.
Here at Parents, we're always learning about pediatricians who are doing incredible work: offering compassionate patient care, conducting groundbreaking research, developing cutting-edge community programs. But the seven who follow--all members of the American Academy of Pediatrics--have come up with truly innovative ways to improve their patients' lives. In their honor, Parents and Desitin are donating $1,000 each to the charities of their choice. (The 20 outstanding pediatricians on Parents' advisory board were ineligible for the award.) If you like what these enterprising docs are doing, talk to your child's physician to see whether she's willing to follow their lead.
A Members-Only Approach to Health Care
J. Brian Thornburg, D.O. Naples, Florida
In 2006, Dr. Thornburg left a thriving medical group to switch to a concierge, or private-pay, practice model that enables him to provide personalized care by limiting the number of patients he sees to sometimes just a handful each day. "At the group practice, parents could wait up to an hour for ten minutes of my hurried time. Now, families get seen immediately, and for as long as necessary to ensure that every concern is addressed," he says. Families gain 24/7 access to Dr. Thornburg's medical expertise by paying an annual membership fee of anywhere from $1,200 to $2,500 per child for office care. (He also bills insurance for each visit.) About 10 percent of his patients are treated for free; this includes many chronically ill and disabled children. Dr. Thornburg is among more than 4,000 internal medicine and family physicians, as well as 200 pediatricians, who have adopted the concierge model since its formation in 1996, and those numbers continue to grow.
Sharing What Parents Want
Jena Liddy, M.D., Encino, California
When a parent from Dr. Liddy's group practice, Boulevard Pediatrics, needs to find a babysitter or a school tutor, she can easily enter her request into a secure online monthly newsletter that's made available only to the practice's 4,000 patient families. "Boulevard Pediatrics News began ten years ago as a way for my partners and me to communicate about flu-shot clinics, doctors' schedules, seasonal safety tips, and community events like toy drives," Dr. Liddy explains. Today, families can also post free ads for anything kid-related, or publicize local events. Parents can utilize the online site to schedule appointments, print out their kids' inoculation records, or send a message to their doctor. "Our newsletter has created a feeling of community among our parents," adds Dr. Liddy. It also helps families stay current on crucial topics like recalls on children's products, as well as checking out what the doctors call the "community crud": "We let parents know which illnesses we're seeing a lot of so they know the symptoms to watch for and when their child needs to be seen."
Getting Clever With Smartphones
Natasha Burgert, M.D., Kansas City, Missouri
The same scenario kept repeating itself, says Dr. Burgert: "I'd walk into an exam room and find parents sending texts, surfing the Web, or entertaining the kids with an app on their phone. I realized that I could put those phones to use for health-care education." So in 2011, Dr. Burgert started posting URLs and scannable quick response (QR) codes for reputable health sites on whiteboards in exam rooms and in the waiting room. "If whooping cough is making headlines, I'll send parents to sites about the pertussis vaccine; if a stomach bug's going around, I'll have info on staying healthy," she says. She creates unique Web addresses so she can track viewership and understand which topics interest parents most. She estimates that close to 80 percent of families view at least one suggested link while at her office: "Now when I enter exam rooms, parents have formed specific questions based on what they've just read online. It greatly improves the quality and efficiency of their child's checkup."
Happier Parents, Happier Kids
Shelly David Senders, M.D., Cleveland, Ohio
Most kids don't get excited about seeing the doctor, but Dr. Senders's patients love climbing up the two-story tree house in his waiting room and zooming down the slide. "By the time I see them, they're smiling," he says. Parents are happier, too, but for a different reason. Many have learned how to discipline more effectively thanks to seminars lead by an on-staff certified parenting coach. Since 2005, more than 2,000 parents have completed the two-day, six-hour parenting empowerment class, which costs $129. "We give parents tools to manage issues like bedtime routines and picky eating," says Dr. Senders. "The entire family benefits when parents become more confident in their abilities."
Fighting Obesity Everywhere
Joanna Dolgoff, M.D., New York City
As one of the few pediatricians offering a targeted weight-loss program for children, Dr. Dolgoff fields inquiries from families across the country. "They come to New York for the initial consultation, but then we use videoconferencing or Skype," she says. During these online visits (which cost $40 and aren't covered by insurance), she meets with out-of-town patients and their parents to review dietary habits, discuss strategies for upcoming challenges such as holiday temptations, and cover key information like portion sizes. Occasionally, she uses video technology with local patients who can't come to her office due to bad weather or some other conflict. "With Skype, I can get more kids on the path to healthy living no matter where they are. It's really like we're in the same room," she says. She credits this way of motivating kids with helping them stay committed: "The ones who Skype are as successful with weight loss as those who come to our office."
Lloyd Fisher, M.D., Worcester, Massachusetts
Parents never walk out of Dr. Fisher's office empty-handed. Ever since the office installed an electronic health record (EHR) system in 2007, Dr. Fisher and his partners have been giving families an after-visit summary containing info including a child?s height, weight, and growth percentile; current medications and immunizations; and treatment recommendations. The EHR also creates personalized health documents for parents on what developmental milestones their child should achieve in the coming months, as well as facts about chronic conditions like asthma or ADHD. "We now get fewer questions and phone calls from parents, and greater treatment compliance," he says.
Truly Collaborative Care
Joseph F. Hagan, M.D., Burlington, Vermont
When Dr. Hagan noticed that the mother of a 2-month-old patient was showing classic symptoms of postpartum depression, he knew her condition could compromise her care for her baby. But he didn't have to refer her to an outside therapist and hope she'd follow through. Instead, he just walked her down the hallway. For 15 years his practice, which has grown into Hagan, Rinehart & Connolly Pediatricians, has had a clinical psychologist in the office. The current full-time psychologist, Kimberly Roy, Ph.D., sees roughly 30 children a week, as well as the occasional parent, and is a resource throughout the day. "There have been many times when I've worried about someone and said 'Just a minute' and crossed my fingers. If Kimberly's door is open, I consult with her," Dr. Hagan says. Dr. Roy will then give her opinion or meet the patient right away. If she's unavailable, Dr. Hagan can talk to her later and get back to the family within 24 hours. "This type of collaborative work truly enhances the care of our children," he says.
Want your doctor to try this stuff?
You know that moment at the end of your child's exam when your doctor asks if you have any questions? Once you've gotten the answers you need about your child's care, you can turn the tables and ask whether she'd consider giving one of these ideas a go. Keep in mind that offerings like online classified listings are simpler and more affordable to implement than hiring a clinical psychologist. "It helps to hear from parents what they want," says Dr. Jena Liddy. "If we can affordably implement a tool that promotes better health among patients, everybody wins."
Baby Care Basics: Surprising Reasons to Call the Doctor
Originally published in the November 2013 issue of Parents magazine.