By Judy Gyde
When Kim brought her twin-toddlers to the pediatrician’s office, one child cried the whole time and the other kept asking for cookies. By the time Dr. Carter entered the room, Kim was frazzled. Her children’s distractions caused her to forget to ask a couple of important questions of the doctor.
This happens frequently. Many parents are distracted during office visits and forget to mention important details of health or behavior to their doctors. Perhaps this has happened to you. Here are some ideas to help you office visits go more smoothly:
Bring your twins’ medical histories with you
For your first visit, bring a copy of your children’s medical records from your previous physician. Your new doctor is interested in their medical histories, previous surgeries, diagnoses, and treatments. Remember to bring immunization records. Have all your records in a file folder for safekeeping, and let the office make copies, but keep the originals for your home records.
Bring your list of symptoms
Before the appointment, make a written list of each child’s symptoms and any questions you may have for the doctor. This helps you remember important information you may otherwise forget. Symptoms are like pieces of a puzzle. When you tell your doctor all of the details—even seemingly unimportant ones—it gives your physician a clearer picture of your situation. It helps make an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
Talk to your doctor about medications
If your twins take any medications, vitamins or herbs, bring the bottles with you in separate zip-lock plastic bags, labeled with each child’s name. Your doctor will easily see what they take, dosage and frequency. By looking at your bags of medications, your doctor can prevent misunderstandings and mistakes. It’s an important safeguard.
Your doctor may want to change a medication. If the physician doesn’t explain why, ask about the reason(s). Sometimes doctors are busy thinking and forget to clarify why they are making changes. Ask about side effects or anything you should be watchful of with new medications. Usually children won’t experience side effects, but if they do, you’ll know how to respond.
Everyone’s body responds a little differently to each medication. If one of your twins is taking a new prescription and having a problem with it, call your doctor if you are concerned. Some meds need close monitoring to make sure they are working properly. If a med isn’t working well, your doctor may want to switch to another one, which your child may tolerate better.
Schedule appointments based on priority items
If you child has several medical problems, select the most important one or two that need addressing. As mothers, we tend to try to solve everything in one visit. But this can result in inadequate time for the most important health issues. If there isn’t enough time to address your child’s problem thoroughly, a follow-up visit can be a good solution. Your doctor can make sure your child is progressing well with the new treatment and you can talk about your other concerns.
Most pediatricians and family doctors schedule or allot 10-minutes per appointment, per child. It’s important to respect their time constraints. Doctors appreciate patients who focus on health issues and don’t draw them into conversations about unrelated topics. Most pediatric offices will allow you to schedule your twins’ appointments together.
Out of respect for your doctor, don’t ask for a medical opinion related to another child’s health if you don’t have an appointment for that child. If your other child also is sick, it’s best to schedule a separate appointment. This enables the staff to prepare each child’s medical chart for the office visit and avoids confusion for the doctor.
Appointments are easy to forget, especially well-child check-ups. The children are feeling fine and moms forget the visit because doctor appointments aren’t part of the normal routine. If you think you may forget, post a reminder note on the refrigerator the day before the appointment.
Doctors not only appreciate when parents remember appointments, but also when they arrive a few minutes early. Latecomers set the doctor’s schedule back, sometimes for the entire day. If every person arrives early and uses the proper time allotment, everyone’s waiting-room time is relatively short.
Develop a treatment plan with your doctor
Your doctor wants you to understand the treatment plan set up for your child(ren). If you don’t understand something, ask your physician to go over it again and explain in detail what each step is for and how to carry out. No question should be overlooked if it is important to you. During your visit, if possible, write down important details that could easily be confused or forgotten.
Share your concerns
Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about personal issues or uncomfortable topics pertaining to your twins. Your doctor treats all types of problems regularly and can help you. But your physician is not a mind-reader and can visually recognize only some aspects of your children’s health, so you have to introduce the topics your physician needs to know about.
Tests, procedures and specialists
Your doctor may want to order medical tests or send your child to a specialist for problems that need great attention. Certain screenings and lab work help your doctor thoroughly understand the roots or manifestations of certain conditions. Provide the nurse with the dates you are available for appointments or tests. This saves time and enables your nurse to schedule things more quickly for you.
A quality physician only orders test when they are necessary tests. Today things are different. Insurance companies oversee testing payments and won’t allow unnecessary tests to be done. You can rest assured that your doctor will only order tests that are important.
Bring your co-pay, insurance cards, credit card or cash. Your driver’s license or identification is required for the first appointment, in order for your children to be seen. If you are having financial problems, many offices will allow you to use a payment plan. Like any other service providers, doctors expect and appreciate timely payment.
Know your doctor and the staff
Even as your doctor finds it important to know certain things about your family, there are things you may want to know about your doctor. It’s time to ask how long your pediatrician or family practice doctor has been in practice and where he or she attended medical school. The physician and the office staff should be friendly and polite. They should return your phone calls in a timely fashion. It’s important that their office be clean and well-organized.
Work together for good health
It takes extra preparation to make smooth office visits. Be especially alert when procedures or immunizations are being given to your twins—you’re an important element of safeguarding them from medical mistakes. If the room is noisy or chaotic, it’s possible the nurse could become distracted and administer a shot to the wrong child. With your watchful eye, mistakes can be prevented.
Your doctor and the office staff care about your family’s health and will give you wise counsel, to the very best of their ability. Have reasonable expectations for relief of symptoms and cures. Not everything can be “fixed” instantly and medicine is as much art as science.
Judy Gyde lives in Toledo, Ohio and is a former pediatric nurse who has twin nieces and a son-in-law with a twin sister. The pediatrician she worked for had about five sets of twins per month who visited the practice for routine checkups.