Ask the Expert: How can I make the most of a well-child appointment?

well-child visitIt happens to many parents. You leave work early and rush your child to her well-child visit so you can hurry off to the next activity. After the appointment is over, you feel like the visit was too fast. In fact, you realize you forgot to ask her doctor about some concerns.

Thriving checked in with Dr. Susan Laster, a pediatrician in private practice in Brookline, Massachusetts, affiliated with Boston Children’s Hospital, to learn how parents can make the most of a well-child appointment.

The reality is many pediatric checkups are rushed, and parents may forget to mention some of their questions or concerns. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Doctors, parents and patients can spend a little time preparing and make the well-child visit as useful as possible.

Doctors are learning to “pause and prep” in advance of well-child visits — they do simple things like look back at notes from prior visits, review any specialist notes and prepare to address important issues in the 15- to 20-minute time slot. Pediatricians are starting to understand not everything can be addressed in one visit, and a follow-up visit for a very important issue is a good use of time.

Parents also can learn to pause and prep before the annual checkup or well-child visit. This is a good time for parents to mentally review their child’s year physically, developmentally, psychologically — all aspects of a child’s health that your pediatrician is trained to care for.

Take the bird’s eye view with your assessment. Think about these five groups of questions:

No1

How was your child’s health this year?

well-child visit
If you have ongoing observations or concerns about recurring health issues, it’s always good to share those with your pediatrician. Was it necessary to use their asthma inhaler all the time? Are your child’s ADHD medications still helpful? Were there monthly strep throats, and do you want to ask your pediatrician about this? Were there multiple sports-related bone fractures? Did your child seem to get ear infection after ear infection? And don’t forget to ask about skin issues at the visit, since it’s hard to talk over the phone about rashes.

No2

How is your family doing in the healthy lifestyle department?
healthy nutrition

Pediatricians see parents as the main stewards of a household’s lifestyle, mostly by planning for good nutrition, keeping a schedule and setting a good example. Do you have a goal or plan for your child’s digital life? Is your household committed to allowing everyone to get enough sleep? Do you have an ongoing commitment to managing your family’s nutrition? Or do you feel overwhelmed by this aspect of parenting and need some helpful tips?

No3

Does your partner have questions?

parents Perhaps your spouse or partner has concerns but can’t be at the visit. Do you know what those are, so you can get those questions answered?

No4

How is your child’s development progressing?
preschool

How is your child’s development progressing, according to you and to any other caregivers and teachers? Does your child usually speak like other children her age? Is your child riding a tricycle like other preschoolers? Is your child just about ready to read? Are any of your child’s teachers sharing any academic or developmental concerns? Pediatricians are trained to monitor child development and can help determine if these concerns require more evaluation.

No5

Do you have other concerns?

concerned parent Do you have significant developmental or emotional concerns about your child? Do you think the discussion of these would warrant a separate visit? Now might be a good time to schedule both the checkup and the extra visit. Be assured that most pediatricians will meet with parents alone, without the child, to allow for a free discussion of any emotional or developmental concerns.

If your pediatrician has paused and prepped and you have paused and prepped, you may be surprised at how rich the annual visit can be.