If you're thinking you can bring your kid in for a well visit first thing Monday, be out by mid-morning, and squeeze in a grocery-shopping trip by lunchtime, forget it. Pick any other weekday, because Mondays are crammed with appointments for kids who got sick over the weekend. So when should you schedule that visit? Wait times are often shorter -- and the staff is fresh and friendly -- for the first appointment in the morning (Tuesday through Friday) or after lunch. Avoid anything right after walk-in hours.
Thirty-six percent of docs spend only 11 to 15 minutes with their patients, and 20 percent lower that time to 1 to 10 minutes. Make these minutes count by doing some quick research in advance. Many practices post frequently asked well-visit questions online. "They're typically about feeding, elimination, sleep, activity, developmental milestones, safety, and family-history issues," says Anne Francis, M.D., a pediatrician in Rochester, New York. Looking over these questions can guide you in pinpointing any potential problems.
Worried your baby needs something more than a scrip for antibiotics? If you think her problem might tie up the doc for more than ten minutes (maybe you're worried about chronic constipation), schedule a consult. Docs can get frustrated when you hit them with a bombshell at the end of a visit. "In my practice, six visits are usually ten minutes," says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas. "Consultations can last 30 minutes to an hour."
When you're stuck in the waiting room for more than an hour with a crying baby, you wish you could be in a good mood. Well, try. The more pleasant you are, the more help you'll get from the staff; they have the power to give your visit that little nudge that makes all the difference. If you're nice, the office staff will be more than likely to squeeze you in when you phone in a pinch before your big beach vacay.
Only 6 percent of moms surveyed in a recent americanbaby.com poll like all doctors in a pediatric practice equally. Say you originally signed on with Dr. Grinch, but you had to see another doctor (let's call him Dr. Nice) when your baby had a bad diaper rash. Want to switch? Chances are, Dr. Grinch won't even notice; if he does, he won't give it a second thought. Doctors want their patients to see whomever they feel comfortable with. Henry Collins, M.D., a pediatrician in a six-doctor group in Fairfield, California, says not to worry at all: "People come and go frequently. Patients don't need to worry about switching."
The most stressful part of a visit isn't meeting with the doctor. It's surviving the waiting room, where sick kids are more likely to recite the Gettysburg address than cough into their sleeve. You'll spend 20 minutes, on average, in that germ-filled space. If the wait is long, tell the receptionist you'll be in the hallway. She might agree to call your cell when a room is ready. Or you can peek in every five minutes.
Cleaners can only work so much magic, especially on a pediatrician's toy bin. Offices are wiped down daily, but there's no way to sanitize every wheel of every toy truck. And even when toys are cleaned, some viruses still stay put, researchers at the University of Virginia found in a 2008 study. Cold viruses can live longer than 24 hours on some surfaces. So if you're worried that your child might catch something, bring your own bag of tricks to keep her entertained.
That Beyonce ringtone makes you smile, but it won't thrill the doctor. During the appointment, turn off your cell or put it on silent. If your phone rings or beeps when the doctor is talking -- and worse, if you answer -- she'll question whether she's getting through to you. "It's distracting, it wastes time, and it really makes it difficult to get information to parents," says Meg Tomcho, M.D., a pediatrician in Montrose, Colorado. Other dubious parental behavior: missing scheduled appointments; not notifying the receptionist before asking the doc to check a sibling (if little bro does have a sinus infection, the staff needs to pull his chart so the doctor can update the record); and sending a child in with a babysitter who can't answer a single question about the history of that rash.
You think, Jackpot! Free medicine! But wait a sec before accepting samples; they could actually result in your paying more in the long run. The first couple of go-rounds might be free. When you fill the Rx, though, you may pay more for that drug than you would for a generic (samples are typically available for newer, brand-name drugs). Plus, samples can have serious consequences. In 2008, researchers from the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts warned that pediatric samples carry "significant safety considerations." Four of the 15 most frequently distributed samples had warnings indicating serious risks.
He's not worried about prescription costs inflating your credit card bill. And it's a good bet that he doesn't know how much you'll pay for different drugs. So if you're concerned about a drug's cost, ask about other options when the pediatrician writes an Rx -- he won't think you're a cheapskate. And ask the pharmacist to call the office if your bill at the drugstore is unexpectedly large. "We can often do something cheaper with generics," says Sarah Lester, an M.D. in Andover, New Hampshire.
Docs appreciate a helpful hint now and then. Some kids do better on the exam table, others on your lap, so speak up. "Parents should communicate If the child has a phobia, like, 'Johnny will freak if you touch his hair,'" Dr. Anne Francis, M.D., a pediatrician in Rochester, New York, says. It also helps to keep your explanations to the child positive. Say things like, 'This medicine will make you better. The examination will be fun. Dr. Anne will be checking your tummy.'" And if there's a chance of pain, be honest, but put it in a positive light: Tell your child that the shot will hurt some but will keep her healthy.
In the craziness of cold and flu season, things can fall through the cracks. Details about phone consultations are usually noted in your baby's chart, but not always. Things can move too fast for offices to keep up. "Sometimes the patient returns in 48 hours after the first visit, and we don't have a record of the previous encounter in the chart yet because we're waiting for transcripts," Dr. Brown says. It's okay to follow up, especially if you're expecting lab results or a call from the doctor.
Anticipating a longer-than usual wait? Use this list to pack your bag:
Toys: A doctor's play kit can quell the anxiety of waiting for a checkup. Some fun-loving pediatricians will let their young patients "help" with the exam.
Art Supplies: Advertised as "mess-free," Craoyla Color Wonder markers can't do any damage -- colors show up only on special paper ($7-$19; Target, amazon.com). A spiral-bound notebook and pen will also do for doodling.
Books: Snuggle Puppy allows for lots of smooches and "oooooohs" ($6, bookstores). Froggy Goes to the Doctor tells the story of Froggy, who is nervous about his checkup ($6, bookstores).
Snacks: Pack something substantial for yourself, such as a Luna or Lara bar. It will keep your stomach from growling when the doctor finally arrives.
Essentials: Carry diapers, hand sanitizer, snacks that don't make a mess, sippy cups with water, stickers, and the phone number for your pharmacy so the office can call in prescriptions.