How To Avoid Unnecessary Visits To Your Child’s Doctor: Tips For Sick Kids

Every parent has been there: stuck with the dilemma of whether or not to take a sick child to the doctor and how to handle it if you do.  Your child's pediatrician is there to help you with all of your concerns regarding your child's health, but sometimes it's a tough judgment call to decide whether the doctor is needed.  Visiting a children's clinic brings more than an insurance co-pay and time out of your busy schedule - it also means possible exposure to germs from other children in the waiting room.

A quick checklist can help you to make that to-go-or-not-to-go decision.

Check the Clinic Website.  While websites are never a substitute for medical advice, your doctor may have provided a list of symptoms that require an office visit.  If your child's symptoms are listed, call for an appointment.

Call the Advice Nurse.  Most pediatricians have a nurse on hand with whom you can discuss your child's symptoms.  The nurse can set your mind at ease or let you know whether they think it sounds like a cause for concern.

In many cases, advice from the nurse over the phone can be enough to find the right course of treatment for a virus or minor injury.  The best thing about calling the nurse is that it's usually a free service.  If the nurse feels the child should be seen, go ahead and make that appointment.

Ask About Separate Waiting Rooms or Hours.  Some children's clinics offer separate waiting rooms for sick and healthy children, so that those who aren't contagious don't risk infecting other children who are there for check-ups or non-infectious injuries.

Others may offer specific hours during which they don't schedule well child visits.  If your child's medical concern is not contagious - allergies, injuries, or similar issues - ask if you can be seen during well-child hours or kept out of the sick-child waiting area.  If the medical condition isn't urgent, you can afford to wait until there's a time with a lesser risk of exposure to illnesses available to you.

After Hours and Weekends.  Children have a particular ability to get sick at 5 pm on a Friday.  Your pediatrician's office is closed, but nearly all clinics have an on-call doctor or nurse or an after-hours service you can call.  Get someone on the phone to discuss the symptoms and determine how urgent the condition is.

The doctor can help you to decide if you should take your child in or wait it out.  At that point, you'll either be directed to go to urgent care or told to wait until the doctor's office is open again - or, if you're lucky, the symptoms will take care of themselves.