Your Child's Healthcare Provider as Partner

The relationship between parents and healthcare providers is evolving. At one time, the doctor served as the sole authority and was expected to have all of the answers for every question. The family told the doctor about the problem and the doctor told them what to do.

Today, many children's healthcare providers and parents believe that the best relationship is a partnership. Providers are the experts on health information, diagnosis, and treatment; parents are the experts on their child. Together, they make better decisions. For young children, these decisions are most often made during scheduled well-child visits and also during visits for illness or problems.

Well-Child Visits

Well-child visits (also called wellness checkups or health supervision visits) are a vital component of your little one's healthcare. Healthcare providers have a plan for each checkup that was developed based on the needs of the average child. It works well for most families. But the visit can be much more valuable if parents take an active role. For example, you can keep track of immunizations along with the office staff and watch the schedule so that none are missed or late.

Parents can also help monitor their child's growth and ask about any concerns or worrisome trends. Keep in mind that providers are watching for normal development, but they have only a short time to observe your baby. Speak up if you believe there may be a "red flag" or an issue with development that the provider hasn't spotted.

Visits for Illness or Problems

When your child is sick or has some other difficulty, you want to know what's wrong and what to do about it. That hasn't changed since our parents' day. What has changed is the amount and variety of information available to healthcare providers, which makes both diagnosis and treatment much more complex.

Again, it appears that the best decisions are made when parents and providers act as partners. This is known as shared-decision making. A parent's job is to give accurate information about an illness or problem to the provider. A provider's job is to know the options and explain them to a family. Together, they can agree on the best plan of action.

A Partnership for the Future

As you choose a healthcare provider for your child, keep in mind that this person would be a partner in decisions. You'll certainly want someone with whom you feel comfortable and who respects you as a parent. A word of caution: some providers have been trained to use a more traditional approach, so ask right away how a given provider feels about partnering and sharing decisions.

Fostering a partnership takes time and energy, but it's well worth the effort. Working together, you and your child's provider can help your child stay as healthy, safe, and happy as possible.