Is Your Pediatrician Spending Enough Time with Your Child?
What you should know, plus 3 ways to make the most of your appointment
It often seems we spend a lot more time in the waiting room than actually talking to our doctors. And there may be some truth to that. A 2013 study published by The Journal of General Internal Medicine revealed that for new doctors, the time spent with adult patients averaged out to about eight minutes. The majority of their time was spent reading charts, entering orders and doing other tasks indirectly related to patient care.
For parents, this statistic may be a little worrisome. Eight minutes may be fine for grownups, but is it enough time for a pediatrician to spend with a patient and family? From the physician's chair, the answer is yes and no.
"I'm not sure there is a time limit," says Frank McGehee, M.D., a pediatrician at Cook Children's Sixth Avenue office in Fort Worth, Texas. "We will stay with the child as long as necessary, depending on the reason for their visit. Otherwise, most of our checkups are scheduled for 15 minutes.”
Dr. McGehee shares the office with Vanessa Charette, M.D. The two could be considered authorities on the topic of patients and time. That's because in a recent Cook Children's survey, 98 percent of patient families said they felt both doctors spent enough time with their children.
In a world where doctor visits often feel like being put on the clock, this is a valued achievement.
"The benefit of having a pediatrician who a child sees over time is they get to know you," says Dr. Charette. "I may spend two minutes with a child who has a rash because I know them and I know they are a healthy kid, but I may spend 30 minutes with the same child if they are very sick or are having behavioral issues."
One exam that will always take a good amount of time is a well-baby or well-child visit.
"These visits will usually take longer because they're focused on preventive care," says Dr. Charette.
Parents can expect their pediatrician to address how their child is growing, if their development and behavior is normal as well as issues concerning general safety, such as car seats, drowning prevention and the importance of wearing a helmet when riding a bike.
One of the most important things parents can do to make any visit more effective is to ask questions, even if it's not an immediate concern.
"We always ask parents if they have any questions," says Dr. McGehee. "We want to make sure the patient gets what they need."
If you want to make the most of your time, there are three more things you should do:
- Be on time
- Pay attention
- Be present
"Sometimes if you're scared, it's hard to do," says Dr. McGehee. "If you've been up all night with a sick child, listening can be a challenge, but you need to understand what your pediatrician is telling you."
Whether your visit is two minutes or 45 minutes, asking questions and understanding the answers are the best things parents can do to make the most of time spent with their pediatrician.
Vanessa Charette, MD has been a pediatrician at Cook Children's for 10 years and joined Dr. McGehee in 2013.