8 Things You Don’t Know About Your Kid’s Doctor

Last time I took Daughter (age 17) for a check-up her doctor asked about facebook habits, cyber-bullying, and what time she goes to bed at night. Things have changed in the world of pediatrics, and we all need to catch up.

1.  She’s likely to be a she. A recent survey of brand new pediatricians found that 76% are now women. That compares with 48% in 2000 and 40% in 1994 when I entered the ranks. YES! This means that more and more of the experts we go to for guidance will share our experience as mothers. Trust me, it makes a difference.

2.  Chances are your doctor (and your medical chart) is online. Most pediatric practices are using computerized charting or are well on their way there. It’s now routine for docs to enter the exam room with a laptop or tablet and tap away while asking you and your child about the problem. There are lots of advantages to this new world, like your ability to check lab results with a click of the mouse, and the convenience of email instead of phone tag. There is also a downside to having the team captain staring at a screen, so make sure you insist on eye contact and human interaction, too.

3.  Questions have changed (and expanded). Once upon a time, your doctor was most concerned with height, weight, and and maybe how kiddo was doing in school. Now she’s likely to ask about nutrition, exercise, screen time and sports safety, among other things. We’ve realized that health is about much more than the absence of disease, and it’s about time.

4.  “Doctor’s orders” don’t go unchallenged anymore. Patients and parents are  expected to ask questions and have a clear understanding of the diagnosis and treatment plan. This means you should never leave the office with a prescription or recommendation you don’t get or aren’t onboard with. Keep asking until you know exactly what, why, when and how. You shouldn’t be expected to interpret a language (medical-ese) you don’t speak.

5.  The use of “doctor’s helpers” will continue to increase. Don’t be surprised if a nursing assistant conducts much of the visit and a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner handles the rest. The unfortunate reality is that insurance reimbursement for visits continues to shrink, and the only way for doctors to compensate is to lower costs and increase numbers. In the future expect MD’s to handle the complicated problems, while routine kids’ health issues are managed by others.

6.  Medication use in kids is exploding. Prescriptions for children are increasing four times faster than for adults, and it’s estimated that 1 in 4 take at least one medication regularly. That number jumps to 1 in 3 for the 10-19 age group; most commonly to treat diabetes, asthma, and attention disorders. This is a billion dollar industry fueled by our need for a quick fix. Think about asking your doctor if there’s a treatment option that bypasses the pharmacy.

7.  More docs are open to complementary and alternative medicine. Up to 70% of families are choosing alternative techniques to supplement kids’ care, mostly herbal remedies, acupuncture, and chiropractic, and traditional medicine is catching up. The American Academy of Pediatrics now has a section devoted to CAM. Be sure to tell your kiddo’s caregiver about any other treatments you’re using. You may be surprised how much she knows and is willing to share. Also, natural remedies may interact with prescription drugs like antibiotics, so it matters more than you think.

8.  Pediatricians are leaving the field in droves. Stagnant paychecks, increasing patient loads, and labyrinthine insurance regulations are nudging your child’s doctor out of the exam room to find other ways to make a living. A recent study showed that at least 15% of board certified pediatricians have hung up their stethoscopes in favor of non-clinical careers, so if you love yours and want her to stick around, make sure she knows it.


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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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