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8 Ways To Make Your Child's Doctor Appointment Stress-Free

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by Linda DiProperzio
August 14, 2013

A few months ago, I took my two sons to the pediatrician for their annual checkup. I figured it would be a simple endeavor… quite the opposite. The waiting room was packed (mainly with sick kids) and the staff was overwhelmed—surprise. It took nearly an hour to get to the exam room. By the time the doctor appeared, my sons (ages 4 and 2) were over it and so was I.

Taking your child to the doctor (even for a routine visit) can be frustrating—the waiting room is full of sick kids; the doctor is running late; your child is in a panic over impending shots. Oh yeah, and a TV in the waiting room tosses your “no-TV-cause-you-didn’t-eat-your-veggies-at-lunch rule” out the window. If you’re feeling like you need a prescription for Xanax, take a deep breath and relax. Here are 8 tips that are sure to take the stress out of any doctor visit.

1. Pick a doctor that accommodates your schedule
The most important step in ensuring a stress-free doctor visit? Choose a doctor you can actually get an appointment with, says Dr. Dyan Hes, medical director at Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City and a board member of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Do the scheduled office hours accommodate your schedule? Does the office open early? Or stay open late at night? Are there weekend hours? With more moms working outside the home (women now make up 47 percent of the U.S. workforce), flexible office hours are a must for many households. In fact, a recent survey found that 74 percent of parents thought about taking their child to a pediatrician, but opted for a retail clinic (like the ones found in CVS and Walgreens) because it had more convenient hours, or no appointment was available at the doctor’s office. “I always tell my staff to save the late appointments for working parents who want to come to the visits with their children,” says Dr. Hes. “I also like to give the midday appointments to stay-at-home parents, who are sometimes more flexible.”

2. Schedule for the shortest wait
According to a survey in Consumer Reports, 1-in-4 people spend 30 minutes or more in the waiting room—the No. 1 complaint among patients. That stress is multiplied by about 1,000 when you factor in trying to keep your kids occupied and on their best behavior during the long wait. Make sure this doesn’t happen to you by taking the first appointment of the day or the one right after lunch—times when the doctor is less likely to have a back log, says Dr. Cindy Running, pediatrician, Bayshore Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Of course, those times aren’t always an option, so at the very least, try your best to avoid Mondays and Fridays. Mondays are typically filled with sick kids who held off being seen over the weekend, while others needing to be seen before the weekend or before leaving town on vacation show up on Fridays.

3. Be descriptive when you book the appointment
I’m always extra friendly to the office receptionist when I call to book an appointment—not only is she my first barrier to my child being seen ASAP, she can also ensure that I get the time I (and my kids) need. Give a detailed explanation for why you’re requesting an appointment (i.e. baby isn’t sleeping well and you’re concerned about a possible ear infection; toddler’s rash isn’t gone after two weeks of treatment, etc.). “This way, she can allow for more time if it’s needed,” says Dr. Running. “Your pediatrician wants to address all of your concerns, and the first step to making sure that happens is when you first book the appointment.”

4. Tackle paperwork in advance
Completing health forms while trying to keep your little ones occupied can be overwhelming (or at the very least distracting—one mom reports that her daughter once dumped a tube of finger paint in the orthopedist’s waiting room while she had her head buried in a Privacy Notice). To simplify the process, physicians in 28 states use CHADIS (Child Health & Development Interactive System), an internet based tool that allows parents to complete a pre-visit questionnaire online. The results are scored electronically and the score is sent to the doctor to review well in advance of your child’s appointment. If your child’s doctor doesn’t offer CHADIS, ask to have health forms sent to you in advance via snail mail or email.

5. Write down your questions
How many times have you walked out of the pediatrician’s office and thought, “I can’t believe I forgot to ask about this!” Ensure that this doesn’t happen to you by jotting down questions and concerns ahead of time. “Technology makes this easy—you can type questions into your phone or iPad, or record voice memos if that’s easier,” says Dr. Charles Shubin, a pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, MD. In fact, when my older son was almost 3 and still couldn’t jump with two feet off the ground, I made a videotape of my son with my phone and showed it to his doctor. He was eventually diagnosed with a gross motor delay, went to physical therapy, and can now jump effortlessly!

Some pediatricians are also using email to address patient questions before they come in for the actual appointment. “It gives the doctor time to review a parent’s concerns beforehand and really think about the issue in detail,” says Dr. Shubin.

6. List out your questions in order of priority
The average health check takes about 18 minutes, leaving little time for questions and answers. So share your concerns right away, posing your most pressing questions first. What might seem like a simple concern to a patient may elicit detailed questions from the doctor and a more extensive examination and evaluation. “I’ve had patients talk to me about smaller issues and by the time I’m ready to close the visit they say, ‘What I really wanted to talk about is. . .’” says Dr. Hannah Chow-Johnson, a pediatrician at Loyola University Health System, an academic medical center in Chicago, IL. “This makes it difficult to discuss what’s really concerning you or your child.”

7. Prevent prescription problems
Pharmacy errors harm an estimated 1.5 million Americans each year, according to the National Patient Safety Foundation. Mistakes happen, whether it’s the doctor, the pharmacist, the child, or the parent. You can prevent mistakes by asking your child’s doctor or nurse to phone in your child’s prescription. Calling the pharmacy not only saves time, it reduces the risk of the pharmacist misreading the prescription. Many doctors are switching to electronic medical records (EMR). The doctor types the prescription into a computer and either prints out a copy for the patient or forwards the prescription electronically to the pharmacist. Despite the use of EMRs, errors can still occur, so be sure to write down the doctor’s orders—name of drug and dosage—and compare it to what the pharmacist gives you.

8. Keep germs at bay
No separate areas for sick and healthy kids? Concerned that your kids will catch something? Not to worry. “In reality, sick and well waiting rooms don’t work,” says Dr. Hes. “It’s difficult to know whether a child is contagious or not. Instead, use common sense. If your child has a high fever or a rash, tell the nurse, so she can get him into the exam room right away.”

You can further reduce germ transmission by keeping waiting room toys out of your child’s mouth (you might want to bring one or two toys from home) and wash/wipe your child’s hands as soon as you leave the doctor’s office. Most doctors’ offices have hand sanitizers outside the patient rooms or in the waiting room. Wash wisely and perhaps your return trip to the doctor won’t be anytime soon!

Linda DiProperzio is a freelance writer and editor living in New York. She is mom to two young boys.

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