Hey, Why All The Questions? I Just Want An Appointment!

When you call our office to schedule a check-up for your healthy child or a routine follow-up or a minor illness, chances are the only questions our staff will be asking are things like “What time/day works for you?” and “Is this still your phone number/address/email/insurance?” But for some appointment types and for some more complicated children, there are some questions that we need to ask before we can make your child’s appointment, and the reasons behind those questions are important.

For everyone, all the time: we need to make sure that we have identified your child correctly, and that we have the correct contact information and insurance information for your family. This is hugely important. When you give us your child’s name, we should be asking for the date of birth if you haven’t already given it to us. We should be asking for your preferred phone number and double-checking the mailing address. We do this to make sure we are talking about the correct child but also to make certain that someone else isn’t pretending to be the parent of your child, fishing for information. And of course, it’s imperative that we have your BEST phone number so that we can call you if more information is needed or if we have to make a change to your appointment time.

We need to make sure that your child is safe to wait for the proposed appointment time, and that we are in a position to provide the needed services. For urgent sick appointments or injuries you may find your call transferred to a nurse, who will ask you a few questions about how sick your child is or how severe the injury appears to be. Depending on the answers, she can get you an appointment as well as give you advice on what to do in the meantime. She can discuss the case with a physician if needed. If your child sounds very ill or severely injured then she may have to direct you to a hospital Emergency Department in order to make sure your child receives emergency or specialized services right away. We also want to make sure that you aren’t disappointed by making an appointment and then finding you have to go elsewhere. For example, there isn’t much we can do for a broken tooth -- call your dentist!  A badly ingrown toenail that we’ve already seen and treated with non-surgical care may need a podiatrist. And adolescent girls who desire long-term contraception such as an IUD or one of the implants will be referred to a gynecologist, so you can skip seeing us first if that’s what is desired.

On certain days, such as Sundays or holidays, or when there are very few appointments left, you will be asked to talk to a nurse first before scheduling an appointment.

We need to give your child or adolescent the right amount of time to the appointment. A depressed teenager or a elementary school student who needs to be evaluated for ADHD or a child who has had abdominal pain for six months all need to have more time set aside than someone who has had a sore throat for two days. We want to make sure that we have enough time to fully address the concerns that you have.

We want to make certain that we schedule you with the right person for the job! Most of the time your child will see his or her PCP, but for some urgent problems we will use another provider on the same team if the PCP doesn’t have timely availability. If no one on the team is available then we may have to make the choice of having your child see someone that they’ve never seen before versus waiting for the PCP or team member to have an opening. We need to have a good idea of the nature of the concern to make that decision. Also, not every provider has the same skill set. Serious mental health issues and children with very complex health needs will normally be cared for by our physicians rather than our mid-levels (although there are exceptions). By the same token, some of our physicians are All Thumbs when it comes to suturing or placing casts on minor fractures... and our PAs are great at these! And our PNPs really shine when patient education is what is really needed.

We want to be as prepared as possible for your child’s appointment. Perhaps we need to order an interpreter, or make sure that one of our lactation nurses is around at the time of the appointment. Maybe your child has seen a specialist recently? In that case, we want to make sure we have notes from that visit. Maybe you’ve consulted with a psychologist or psychiatrist about your child or adolescent and have a huge report that the PCP needs to read?  In that case, we want to get that packet to the PCP well in advance of the visit. Perhaps your little darling was in the ED over the weekend and we are seeing her for follow-up: we want to be able to get the ED notes and any labs that may have resulted after you were there. Sometimes special tools or equipment may need to be located and checked to see if they are working! The list is almost endless, but there are many situations in which a little knowledge on our part means better coordination of care for your child and a more useful visit with us.

Whew, what a list! Hopefully that gives you a better idea of why we do ask all of those questions. Please help us by answering as honestly and completely as possible. Always feel free to volunteer any additional information that you think could be relevant to your child’s appointment. And please let us know if you aren’t being asked to verify that BEST phone number every time you call or visit us!