9 tips to help navigate your child's medical care

Thursday, October 20, 2016

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This is a post I’ve been wanting to share for a long time. I want to first and foremost say that what works for my family, may not be best for yours and of course, each child’s medical needs are so vastly different that there is no one-size-fits all way to navigate the medical care process. I am well aware that there are many, many families dealing with much, much larger and more serious medical complexities than ours. This is not lost on me or my family and we count our blessings every single day.

To give a little bit of background on our particular situation, over the last two years that Dayton has an above average number of doctor appointments with his primary care physician (WHO WE LOVE!), 8 hospital admissions (between two hospitals), has seen more specialist’s than I can remember, has been through occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy and has had multiple developmental evaluations. As you can imagine his medical history (and medical bills!) have been substantial. Through it all, we have found few simple ways to save our family time, money and frustration. I am sharing them today in hopes that they might help someone traveling a similar road.

Find the right Doctor:
There is nothing more comforting them choosing the right doctor for your child. If you respect & value their opinion and they do yours your child’s overall care will substantially benefit. Sometimes that takes seeing a few different doctors before you find “the one”. Keep in mind, doctors are not one-size-fits-all so even those that come highly recommended by friends or family, might not be the right fit for you or your child. Even in a hospital setting when you may not feel like you have an option as to who you see, it’s ok to ask if there is an alternative person for you to talk to. Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns if you don’t feel like you’ve found the right fit! It’s imperative you trust your health care providers. I can assure you, Doctor’s want the trust of their patients too. A child’s healthcare is a team effort, so parents and doctors have to be on the same team.

Schedule Appointments Appropriately:
I see and hear people complain ALL.THE.TIME. that they don’t feel like their doctor is spending enough time with them and trust me, I have been there. I feel you. But, here’s is what I’ve learned works best for us. Most appointments are scheduled for a certain amount of time 15 minutes, 30 minutes and some even an hour.  When you call to make an appointment, based on what you are stating your child needs to be seen for, this automatically puts you into a category with corresponding pre-set appointment times frames. For example, a simple medication check or vaccine for your child might only need a 15-minute appointment, whereas a well-check or full physical may require a much longer appointment. So, I say all of this to encourage you to communicate upfront all of the issues you wish to discuss with your child’s doctor WHEN you are making the appointment. Don’t be afraid to ask how long you will have with the doctor and certainly don’t hesitate to request a longer appointment (which might mean you have to be a bit more flexible on days and times) if you find it necessary. Meaning, don’t make an appointment for something like your child pulling on their ear indicating a possible ear infection and then be upset when your doctor doesn’t have time to discuss his eating habits, developmental milestones, or any other more complex issue. Remember, they were only prepared to look at their ears! But, if you’ve tried all of the above and still feel like you aren’t receiving adequate time with your doctor, then TALK to your doctor about your concerns. Going further into this, be respectful of their time and be aware if you are scheduled for a simple medicine check or the like, but decide to bring up other concerns, you might feel a bit rushed. They do have other patients scheduled and most doctors run tight schedules in order to give everyone the best care they can. If you are respectful of their time things will run much smoother for everyone. That said, if you are one of many that repeatedly has to deal with long waiting room times (we, fortunately, do not usually have to deal with this), talk to you doctor. They need to know!

Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion:
Even if you trust your doctor whole heartedly, don’t hesitate to respectfully ask for a second opinion. Sometimes hearing more than one confident opinion, can help you process and understand a particular diagnosis and can be tremendously beneficial when forming a plan of care that you are comfortable with. Many times, your child’s doctor may offer this before you even have to ask. Remember, doctors are human too and sometimes, as the old saying goes, sometimes “two heads are better than one”. Taking this step further, it’s really important that all of your child’s health care providers communicate openly with each other.  One of the most comforting things about our various hospital admissions is that we knew all of the various teams were communicating and deciding TOGETHER what needed to be done. Your child’s primary care physician should be aware of all medical care you are receiving.

Know the names of your child’s nurses, PCA’s, administrative staff and get to know them:
Chances are you are communicating with these people, whether in your child’s doctor’s office, a specialist’s office or even the hospital, more than you do with their actual doctor. Get to know them! Trust me, we remember the names of each and every person that we came in contact with and who cared for both myself and Dayton during his delivery and NICU stay. Even the front desk staff (love them!).  During all of Dayton’s 7 hospital admissions we have seen familiar faces and many times have had the same nurses! One in particular has cared for Dayton during every stay at our local hospital and we absolutely adore her! At our doctor’s office, we know that these people are an important part of the operation, so we always make an effort to get to know them. Using their names and treating them well goes a long way. Remember, they are usually your direct line to your doctor and they play a very intricate part of your child’s overall care. Don’t forget about them!

Complete those annoying surveys & be honest:
You may notice that most health care providers and hospitals have started sending post visit/admission surveys. Yes, it seems like a bunch of junk mail and wasted time…I mean who has time for anything extra these days, but ya’ll, take the time to fill them out! They usually only take a few minutes too complete. These types of surveys are imperative for improvements at facilities & physician’s offices and gives you a chance to really express any concerns in a confidential manner. You never know who might benefit from your honest feedback.

Ask for copies of your child's medical records:
We’ve learned that it is far more reliable for you to make sure your child's medical records get from one doctor to another than it is to rely on someone else making it happen. Yes, sometimes they will charge you a minimal fee for this but nothing is more frustrating than expecting your doctor to have your records, test results, etc. only to find out they don’t. Plus, having a copy for yourself allows you to fully understand your child’s health care history, allows you to reference back to them over the years and can be highly useful when dealing with or auditing your medical bills. I can't tell you how many times I have pulled them out to get the answer to something. 

Ask for itemized bills:
Speaking of medical bills….I can’t stress this enough! Always, always, always ask for an itemized bill, especially when you’ve been in the hospital or had any surgical procedure and actually look at it. I can’t tell you how many billing errors we have found by doing this. Taking the time to go through each bill and compare to your notes & medical records has literally saved us (and our insurance company) thousands and thousands of dollars.  I get it can be overwhelming and most think “oh my insurance company is paying anyway so it doesn’t really matter”…well it DOES matter and YOU do pay for it. Errors & mistakes do happen!

Really understand your insurance policy:
And speaking of insurance policies, take the time, BEFORE it’s needed, to understand your insurance coverage. Also, make sure you know how to get answers from your insurance company (what departments to call, their hours, etc.). You should always have your insurance card with you and make sure your doctor’s office is billing your insurance correctly – yes, you CAN ask to see the diagnosis codes they are using! Most insurance companies offer advocacy programs for their members, so make sure you take advantage of that resource. They really can make all the difference in how your insurance is utilized and how effectively claims are processed – they can also help you navigate and understand large claims. Personally, I make a point to check our insurance deductibles before every doctor’s appointment. It’s simple to log in form my smartphone and see where we stand. For three years in a row now, we have hit our max out of pocket, yet continue to be asked by doctor’s offices to pay co-pays and various other costs, only to have them refunded weeks or months later. You have the ability to check your up to the minute status, whereas some doctor’s offices do not…or simply don’t. This will save you time and money!

You are your child's best and more important advocate:
I can’t tell you enough how important it is to be involved in your child’s care. YOU know your child better than anyone else and since they can’t advocate for themselves, it’s your job to do so! Be respectful, be smart and go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, sound right or you simply disagree with something, speak up, do your own research, ask questions and remember to keep your child’s best interest in mind! You will always be your child’s best advocate!

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