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Talking to Your Child's Doctor

Your child's doctor can be an incredible resource when you have questions and concerns about your child's health, but finding time for regular checkups and sick visits may be a stretch for your already jam-packed schedule. The doctor may be overbooked and overscheduled, too, so making the most of your time together is important.

What are the best ways to communicate your concerns and questions? And how can you strengthen your relationship with the doctor who plays such an important role in your child's health?

The Doctor-Patient Relationship

Today, doctors are pressured to see more patients in less time and to spend less time with each patient. Insurance issues, such as the need for referrals, complicate patient care for parents as well as doctors and their offices.

The increasing complexities of the health care system mean that parents have to take charge of their kids' care. In the past, parents may have known far less about their kids' health, growth, and development. In today's world, the health information that's readily available on the Internet, in bookstores, and on TV suggests that parents have the ability to be more informed than ever before. This is good news, because parents who actively participate in their kids' health care help to ensure the best care possible.

In some cases, though, parents who do their own research may find incomplete or inaccurate medical and health information. Parents armed with stacks of printouts from unreliable Internet sources could find themselves at odds with a tense and frustrated doctor who doesn't have time to agree or disagree with each piece of information.

Another common problem that may hinder a good relationship with your doctor is unrealistic expectations or an unwillingness to trust a doctor's diagnosis or treatment of a minor illness. For example, many parents expect a drug or medicine for common colds, when a wait-and-see approach may be better. As a result, some doctors may feel pressured to give in to parental expectations for prescriptions or treatment, even when it's not necessary or in the best interest of the child's health.

Communicating With the Doctor

The key to building a better relationship with your child's doctor is open communication and reasonable expectations.

What can you expect from your doctor? He or she should:

Your pediatrician, family doctor, or nurse practitioner can also help you with other children's health issues, including exercise, nutrition, and weight issues; behavioral and emotional issues; how to cope with family issues, such as death, separation, and divorce; and how to understand and seek treatment for learning disabilities.

Good communication is a two-way street. You can aid communication by letting the doctor know that you trust him or her to care for your child. It's good to ask questions, but let the doctor know that you want decisions, diagnoses, and prescriptions to be based on the best decision for the health of your child, not what's easier for you or makes you feel better.

You should also be as prepared as possible with details during your doctor visits. When asked how your child is doing, be ready to share any concerns or ask any questions. It's best to be specific. Be sure to tell the doctor details about symptoms — for instance, if your child vomited three times last night, had a temperature of 102ºF (39ºC), or is having diarrhea. This helps the doctor assess your child's condition more readily and accurately than if you just say that "my child is sick."

Consider jotting down your questions and concerns before the appointment so that you'll remember everything you want to bring up. And if you're worried about symptoms your child is having, mention them to the doctor even if he or she doesn't ask. Tell the doctor what you've tried to make the symptoms better and what worked and what didn't. The more information you provide, the better the doctor will be able to assess your child's health.

Tips for Building a Better Relationship

Make the most of your relationship with the doctor (and the doctor's office) by following these tips:

The stress of having a sick or hurt child can strain communication between doctors and parents, and the many issues covered in well-child visits may leave little room for your questions. But don't hesitate to ask your doctor questions, no matter how insignificant you may think they are. Many times, problems with your child can be resolved easily with the help of the doctor.

And don't be afraid to give the doctor feedback about your office visit experience, such as whether you felt rushed during the appointment or needed more information about a prescription or procedure. A good doctor will want to work with you to provide the best care possible for your child.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2013

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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