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Finally, aim for continuity with one physician, particularly if you’ve joined a larger practice. This is critical informing a solid relationship. Adina Safer of San Francisco, mother of 16-month-old Adley, has achieved this by taking matters into her own hands. “Our practice encourages you to rotate docs,” she says. “But I really want [our pediatrician] to know us, so I find out the days he’s on duty and make appointments for those days.”
In today’s managed-care world, the challenge is getting what you need out of an office visit in the 15 minutes typically allotted. To help with this, bring a written list of questions and concerns and try to leave with some idea of what to expect at the next appointment.
Also be aware that many of your urgent needs and questions are going to fall outside of office hours. Prepare yourself by finding out at the first appointment how night and weekend visits are handled.
Many pediatricians believe that it’s every parent’s prerogative to speak directly to the doctor if they feel they need to. “I’d much rather see if I can make you feel comfortable in five minutes and save you calling around to 10 friends to discuss a problem,” Piel explains. But there’s a caveat: “You need to have realistic expectations,” she says. “Don’t expect a call right back; many of us wait until the end of the day to return calls.”
Get to know the nurses:
Parents usually want advice and diagnoses directly from their doctor. But it may be more realistic to expect medical assistance from the practice’s nurses as well. Don’t automatically see this as a step down in care—many nurses have years of front-line experience and are great at supplying quick answers to everyday health questions.
Change doctors, if you must:
Despite everyone’s best efforts, there are still instances when the doctor/parent relationship just doesn’t work out. If a personality match is the problem, a discussion isn’t likely to solve it.
The best course of action—whether confronting your doctor directly, changing pediatricians within an office or switching to a new practice—is up to you. Changing doctors within an office is often easiest, but only if you can handle the potential awkwardness of running into your original pediatrician at a sick-child visit.
Forming a successful alliance with your pediatrician may take more than one try, but you’ll find the effort well worth it. “With families living farther apart, the network that once provided so much support is less available,” says Piel. “New parents feel increasingly isolated. The pediatrician has become a key support.”