Throughout their childhood, kids will have to visit the pediatrician over a dozen times in order to ensure that they are growing into healthy bodies. As babies, pediatricians were there almost every month, checking weight and development. As children get older, the visits become less frequent, mostly decreasing to a once-per-year wellness check right before school, and possibly visits to address any illnesses or injuries a child has experienced.
Because going to the pediatrician isn’t something you do regularly once your child gets out of the infant years, it’s easy to understand why some children will find pediatrician visits to be frightening. They may become unusually anxious and unwilling to speak or cooperate during the visit; and in your rush to get through the visit, you may find later that you’ve forgotten to discuss an important concern with the doctor.
The best way to combat this familiar story is to be prepared before you go to the pediatrician. Just like going to your own doctor, there are many things that you can do to make the visit easier. Here are five steps to follow before seeing your pediatrician, to make your next visit a success.
1. Prepare Your Child to See the Pediatrician
The first step for making a pediatric visit successful is to prepare your child for the visit. Simply telling them that a doctor’s appointment is coming up can cause a lot of anxiety, and make the days leading up to the visit just as difficult. Instead, you can try a few techniques that help ease them naturally into the acceptance of the visit.
First, explain the visit thoroughly, and take the time to answer all the questions that your child may have. Tell them why they are going to the doctor (To make sure that their body is healthy? To check out the sore throat that they have had for a few days? To get vaccinations for school or sports?), and look up the answers to questions that you may not know.
For very young children, it may help to act out the visit together. Allow your child to play the patient, and then switch and allow them to be the doctor. This can help them feel in control of the appointment. On the day of the appointment, allow your young child to wear their doctor’s coat from your play acting, or to dress in a way that makes them feel the most comfortable and in-control.
If your child feels guilty or embarrassed that they got hurt or sick and must see the doctor, reassure them with stories about times that you’ve been to the doctor, especially stories from your childhood. This is a great way to show your child that visiting the doctor is a normal and healthy part of life and that they should consider the doctor an important helper to ensure that they grow up healthy and happy.
2. Understand Your Insurance
Children aren’t the only ones who need to be prepared when it comes to visiting a pediatrician. There are many things that you, as the parent or legal guardian, will have to do or bring with you to the appointment to ensure that it goes as planned. One of those things is your insurance information. Be sure to bring your card with you to every visit, especially if there have been any changes to your policy or contact information. It may be routine for your pediatrician’s office to regularly re-copy an insurance card to keep their records updated.
We all know that, sometimes, doctor’s visits and insurance don’t play nicely. Understanding the basics of how your insurance works, what it covers, and what you can expect in terms of copay and deductible, can make your visit to the pediatrician much easier. If there is a problem with the insurance when you check in or out, you’ll be much more prepared to handle the issue, because you’ll understand exactly what is supposed to happen and can quickly rule out any error on the office end.
When you are filling out paperwork, you’ll likely need to know what type of plan you have (an HMO, for example), how much your copay or deductible is, what sorts of extra tests and lab procedures are covered by your insurance, and if you need to be pre-authorized by either the insurance or your primary pediatrician to see specialists or alternative therapists. Take the time before your next pediatrician visit to talk to your insurance provider, or to visit their website, and learn what you can about how your policy works.
3. Bring a List to the Pediatric Visit
One of the worst feelings is knowing you’ve forgotten something, but not being able to recall even a hint of what it was. If you’ve ever tried to wrangle an anxious or sick child into a pediatrician visit, while simultaneously filling out paperwork, navigating insurance issues, and keeping up with the rest of your day, you know how overwhelming it can feel to simply sit in the patient room waiting to be seen. Times like these when having a list can come in handy.
There are many reasons why you should bring a list to your pediatrician appointment. The first is to ask questions. Any questions that you or your child has had regarding their health or development should be listed. Don’t be afraid to ask things that you “could just Google” – first, there’s no competition between information from the Internet and information from a licensed medical doctor who knows your child’s medical history. Second, that is what your doctor is there for. They went to school specifically so that they could answer any and all questions you may have about health, and to provide excellent treatment while they are at it.
Another reason you may want to have a list is to share the symptoms or developments you’ve observed in your child’s health. It can be difficult to remember if a fever has been going on for 12 or 18 hours when you’ve just spent the last hour calming your child down for the visit. It can also be hard to recall exactly what they’ve had to eat recently if they have an allergic reaction, for example. Keeping a list of things that may be possibly affecting their health or development can make it much easier for your pediatrician to provide the best care.
So before you head out for your visit, take a moment to jot down any observations or questions you have that you want to remember during the visit. Scroll back through your texts or social media posts if you mention your child to friends or family, and try to mark down anything that has been unusual in their routine lately.
4. Choose the Right Day and Time
The day and time you choose to schedule a visit to the pediatrician can make or break your entire appointment. Generally, Mondays and Fridays are the busiest for sick children, because they are being seen directly after being sick all weekend, or their parents are trying to get them seen before the office closes for the weekend. If you can schedule a wellness exam on another weekday, you’ll miss the largest crowds and (hopefully) most of the contagions other children may have.
The time of day can also make a difference. For example, many parents of newborns opt to come in first thing in the morning, or right before or right after lunch. This could be because babies tend to wake around meal times, and are easier to handle if they aren’t being woken up from their naps; or it could be because these parents of newborns want to try to catch some sleep themselves, and are opting to leave either the entire day open for naps, or to get home in time for an early bedtime.
Either way, if you schedule a pediatric appointment for times between morning and noon, or times after one in the afternoon, you are probably less likely to run into fussy babies. Additionally, scheduling before three in the afternoon will help you avoid the crowds of parents that couldn’t get off work, and had to schedule later. By choosing to schedule a pediatric appointment during a down time, you can make it much easier for your child to relax, and you won’t be rushed by a busy staff.
Before you schedule your next appointment, take a moment to ask the staff when the least busy times are, and choose one of the options they offer if you can. Also, if you can’t avoid the times when more sick children are brought in, be sure to look around at the waiting area; many pediatric offices have a separate waiting space for well children, to keep them from getting sick.
5. Pack Accordingly
Following this final step before you visit a pediatrician can really make all the difference between a successful visit and a headache. When you visit your pediatrician, it’s important to take the time to pack everything you may need. This includes official forms from the school or sports team if applicable, any notes you’ve made about your child’s health, notes or prescriptions from other doctors or specialists, your insurance information, and your list of questions.
You should also be sure that your child has a favorite book or toy that can entertain them quietly in the waiting room. If the toy is electronic, consider bringing headphones so that other sick children or babies aren’t disturbed. It’s also a good idea to have their name on a book or a toy to avoid confusion because most pediatric offices have toys or books located in the lobby and in the rooms.
Be sure that your child is dressed in a way that makes it easy to give them a proper examination. If you are bringing an infant in for an exam, dress them in a simple outfit that is easy to take off, because you’ll have to strip them for the weight and height. For your older child, allowing them to wear something that makes them feel good is okay (like a doctor’s jacket or a sheriff’s badge), but it may be best to avoid a full costume, it’s harder to lift or move for the health exam.
Go through your bag the night before your visit to the pediatrician and be sure that you have everything you need for the visit. It’s an easy step, but you’ll be surprised just how much this mundane task can help make your visit better for everyone.
You Are a Team
Remember that when you visit your pediatrician, you are visiting someone who is on your team. Your child’s health is the main concern for both of you, and the visit should be totally focused on your child. If you’ve taken the time to carefully choose a great pediatrician, and followed these five steps to prepare for your visit, you should find that the trip is calm, educational, and most of all, relieving.
After your visit to the pediatrician, take a moment in the car to jot down anything that was said in the appointment that you don’t want to forget. Ask your child to tell you how they thought the visit went, and what they think should or will happen at the next visit. Some parents choose to go for a special treat after a doctor’s visit, but even a simple conversation that includes your child’s opinion on the appointment can make them feel special and grown up. Don’t be afraid to call the office later in the day or week if you forgot something you wanted to ask. Most pediatricians’ offices are used to this, and the nursing staff can often be a source of excellent information.
The next time you have a pediatrician visit come around, your child will be primed from last time, and it will take you much less time to prepare. Follow these five steps, and you may find that after a few visits, going to the pediatrician is no trouble at all.