How to get the most out of your pediatrician’s checkup

In a recent post, I wrote about the value of a yearly checkup with your child’s doctor — it can be a whole lot more helpful than a quick sports physical at the local quickie-clinic. You can be sure to get the most out of your child’s checkups with these tips.

First, and most important at all, go to the visit. You’d be surprised how often children are brought by a cousin or aunt or sitter. Sometimes they bring a list of questions from mom — but what kind of a way is that to communicate? Even better: if both parents have questions, both of you should try to go to the physical. I like meeting both parents. And we’ll all get more out of the visit together.

Bring records of any visits with other doctors, emergency departments, and urgent care centers. If your child has been prescribed medications from other docs, bring those, too. Let’s use this as an opportunity to make sure all of the records and straight and all in one place.

Bring questions! A typed list, scribbled notes on a receipt, or a few words typed in a phone app — I’ve seen it all. Any kind of list is a good idea. You won’t get answers if you don’t remember your questions. Bonus pro-tip: Put your questions in order, starting with the one you’re most concerned about.

If possible, don’t bring other children (especially young, distracting siblings). I know it’s not always practical, but if you can possibly set up a time for just the child, parents, and doctor to be in a room together, we can best focus on the star of the show. If you do have to bring siblings (and I understand, sometimes you just have to bring the whole family), try to bring something for them to do. Crayons, iPads, whatever you’ve got.

If for some reason you can’t make it on time, reschedule the visit. You’ll get more out of a rescheduled well check than a rushed well check. If you have to cancel, please call ahead of time — at my office, we always have a waiting list of people hoping to grab a cancelled slot. Do someone else a favor and call ahead of time if you can’t make it to your appointment.

Talk with your child in advance about what to expect. The doctor is going to check “down there,” which is OK for the doctor to do as long as mom or dad is in the room (when kids get older, I’ll ask mom and dad to leave — expect that by the teenage years.) We just want to make sure everything is OK, and that means everything. OK?

There may be some things you don’t want to talk about in front of the child. Maybe school problems, or bullying, or maybe there’s marital problems that are stressing your child out. These are all good questions, and sometimes it can be awkward to bring them up. If it’s a quick question, slip the nurse a note that you need a moment alone with the doc. If you think you need more private time with the physician, call ahead and ask how your doctor’s office likes to handle that. It’s unfair to leave a child alone in the room for a long time while you talk secretly with the doctor — and it makes the kids very, very nervous. It might be best to set up a separate time for parents to come in.

For visits with school-aged or other children, be prepared to let your child talk. I know you’ve got questions, too, and we’ll get to those  – but I first want to make sure your child knows this is his visit. He gets to talk first. That drives some parents crazy, but that’s the way it works best.

A yearly checkup with your child’s doctor should be more than a time to get a form signed for soccer. It’s a chance to catch up and make sure someone is looking at the big picture. Parents and doctors both want to make sure that these checkups are valuable for the children and families. Be prepared, and you’ll get the most out of the visit.

Roy Benaroch is a pediatrician who blogs at The Pediatric Insider. He is also the author of Solving Health and Behavioral Problems from Birth through Preschool: A Parent’s Guide and A Guide to Getting the Best Health Care for Your Child.

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