When parents call their pediatrician’s office or emergency services when needing help with an illness or injury, they aren’t always ready with the information the person on the other end of the line will need.
When you call your doctor’s office, keep in mind that the person on the phone is trying to figure out whether they need to make your child an appointment for later in the week, fit them in today or send you straight to the emergency department. If you’ve called emergency services, the dispatcher has to decide what type of help to send you. Vague phrases such as, “My child doesn’t feel well,” or, “My child feels really hot,” don’t tell us much.
Medicine is like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. Doctors can do an exam and perform tests, but our work starts with the information you give us.
You can start by keeping a personal health history of your child. You can use a cell phone app or just keep a small notebook. Each time your child visits the doctor, urgent care or the hospital, record the date, the reason you went and what treatment your child received. Also make a note of any surgeries your child has had and a list of your child’s allergies, if any.
Before you call the doctor or emergency services, take a moment to think about your child’s symptoms, focusing on what you see. Does your child have a fever? Has he or she been irritable or crying nonstop? Is your child eating and drinking? Is your child breathing normally? Is there a rash or a change in your child’s skin color? If your child was injured, how did it happen?
Always tell the person you are calling your child’s age. It makes a difference. Fever in a 10-year-old and fever in an infant, for instance, are two very different things.
Putting your child’s health history and symptoms together will give you a description that might sound something like this: “My child is 7 and he had pneumonia twice this year. He has had a cold since Monday and now his lips look blue and he seems to be having trouble breathing.” A medical professional hearing this description knows your child needs medical attention right away.
If you’re feeling nervous or upset, take a deep breath and take a second to calm down before you call. And once your call is answered, be as clear and to-the-point as you can. It will help us assist your child more quickly.
Alan L. Nager, M.D., MHA, has been Director of Emergency and Transport Medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for the past 18 years, and is a professor of Pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California.