Your calendar says it’s time for the yearly trek to the pediatrician. You might be tempted to reschedule, especially with everything going on these days. But before you call to shift that appointment to another date, know that these annual checkups are important.
In fact, well visits are an essential health benefit under the Affordable Care Act. They fall under the “preventive care” category. That means they’re covered without cost sharing — no out-of-pocket cost to you — if you have a major medical insurance plan.
Being proactive about your kids’ health could help you avoid bigger problems down the road. And since kids, especially younger ones, don’t always know how to explain their problems, seeing a doctor for regular visits might open doorways that didn’t exist before.
As with adult checkups, pediatric well visits give you and your doctor a chance to sit down and chat about your child’s health. Questions, concerns, fears and everything in between.
Picky eater? Bed wetter? Straight A teen who inexplicably started smoking? Your doctor wants to know about it.
But it can be hard to know what to ask your pediatrician, no matter how many kids you have or how often you see the doctor. You might feel overwhelmed by information or unsure about how to broach certain subjects — or even whether you should.
To maximize your time during these visits, you’ll need to come prepared. Jot down specific questions and concerns, and bring them up when your pediatrician asks for your input.
Not sure how to get the ball rolling?
Here are eight questions to ask during your child’s annual checkup.
#1) What’s next, developmentally?
Your doctor will likely include some “what to expect” info as she’s talking about your child’s growth and development.
But if she doesn’t or you have questions about what’s coming next, ask. Well visits give you a chance to learn about developmental milestones and other areas of childhood that don’t come up during occasional appointments for strep throat or broken bones.
Since you only have one general health checkup a year, now’s the time to talk about what’s coming up next. When’s the next round of shots, for example.
And while you’re talking about what to expect over the next few months, don’t be afraid to bring up developmental milestones, especially for babies and younger children. You need to know what’s typical and what’s not so you can address problems. Early intervention can make a difference in diagnosis and treatment for things like ADHD or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Your pediatrician might also hand you some printed info about developmental milestones. Read it over and bring up any concerns.
#2) Which vaccines does my child need?
During the first few years of your child’s life, it might seem like he gets a shot every time you walk in the doctor’s office. That’s not far off from true, since babies and toddlers now get more vaccines altogether than ever before.
And that’s a good thing.
By and large, vaccines are safe and effective. They also protect your kids and the general public from outbreaks of pretty nasty diseases, like measles and diphtheria.
As your child gets older, though, that onslaught of immunizations slows. You might wonder when he’ll need more shots — like another round of tetanus, for example — or whether he needs to get an annual flu shot. (Short answer: he does.)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that kids get immunized according to a specific schedule. By about age 6, your child will have the basics down. After that, there are a couple new vaccines and some vaccines that need boosting every so often.
And of course, everyone in the family over 6 months old needs an annual flu shot.
If you’re not sure about the vaccine schedule or you have questions about immunization, always start with your pediatrician. There’s a staggering amount of information — and, worse, misinformation — about vaccines available from all over the place.
Bring up vaccines with your child’s doctor. It’s the best way to sort fact from fiction and learn what you need to know for your own kids.
#3) Should I be worried about . . . ?
Don’t ever hesitate to ask your child’s doctor about any specific concerns you have. He can either reassure you that there’s no reason to worry. Or he can offer advice on how to address the issues.
Either way, it helps to keep your pediatrician informed about your worries. Things you might have questions about:
- Upcoming milestones
- Communication problems (at every age)
- Odd or seemingly inappropriate behavior
- Signs of mental or emotional distress
- School-related issues, like poor grades or bullying
These are just a handful of categories, of course. No matter what you’re worried about when it comes to your kid, your doctor will want to know. He might be able to help. Plus, documenting these concerns could help later with a diagnosis if there’s something deeper going on, health-wise.
Well visits typically last longer than a 15-minute sick visit. You’ve got time to bring up your concerns. Use it.
#4) When do I . . . ?
You might think that questions about parenting aren’t appropriate for your pediatrician, but that’s not the case. Pediatricians are experts in childhood health and development — and that includes the right time to, say, introduce solids, stop using a pacifier, potty train or talk to your teen about sex.
Even if you have more than one child, your approach might differ from kid to kid. Maybe your firstborn took everything in stride while your youngest is a natural worrier.
Ask your pediatrician about topics that give you pause. She can give you general guidelines on typical timelines. But she can also advise you on the “when” for your specific kids.
There are thousands upon thousands of books, blogs and articles on parenting. Your best first source is your child’s own doctor.
#5) Can you recommend a specialist?
For the first few years of your child’s life, he’ll likely see his primary care doctor exclusively unless something comes up. Pediatricians handle regular problems, including basic vision screenings and minor dental concerns, in very young children and babies.
But if something not-so-typical comes up, you’ll want a specialist.
Maybe you’re worried about allergies, vision problems or a too-fast heart rhythm. Your pediatrician likely knows colleagues who can address these issues. As with adult doctors, pediatricians can also specialize in different areas of medicine.
Start with your pediatrician if you have concerns. He can offer guidance on the kind of specialist you might need. Your health plan might actually require a referral from your child’s primary care doctor, too, so always start there.
#6) How do I talk to my child about . . . ?
Worried about how to answer your 4-year-old’s endless stream of existential questions? Not sure how to talk to your pre-teens about puberty? From the metaphysical to the practical, kids ask lots of questions. You might be ready, willing and able to answer them, too.
But some questions are tough. And some questions don’t get asked.
If there’s a topic that needs to be addressed and you haven’t figured out how to broach it yet, bring it up with your pediatrician. She can give you tips on how to approach tough subjects, or she might help you answer them in real time while your child’s there. Either way, you’ll get some backup from a pro, which can be helpful no matter the question (or age of your child).
Asking your pediatrician for help in talking to your child also shows your kid that even adults need extra help sometimes. After all, learning how to ask questions is an essential skill.
#7) Can I have a copy of my child’s records?
Doctors keep good records, but they’re also human. That means there may be something in your child’s health record — or absent from it — that needs to be addressed. You might notice errors or omissions, misplaced diagnoses or other problems. It happens.
But even if your pediatrician’s office keeps stellar records totally devoid of errors, it’s still worth your time to keep a copy at home. If your child gets sick with something serious or chronic, being able to look back at earlier records could help you make decisions about future treatments. Plus, you might need easy access to shot records and other info.
Keep in mind that you’re entitled to medical records for your kids. Those records might not be free, though. You may have to pay a small fee to get a physical copy of them.
#8) How can I contact you with questions?
If this seems like a silly question to ask your doctor, it’s not. Even if you’ve gone to the same practice for years, you might be surprised to discover that your child’s doctor has a text number set up for after-hours questions or an alternate way to keep in touch. Social media might have changed things, too. There could be a private group for patients, or your pediatrician may allow questions via private messaging.
It’s always a good idea to ask how you can reach your child’s doctor, during and after regular business hours. And a well visit, which can be more comprehensive and less rushed than a sick visit, gives you the perfect chance to check.