How to talk to your paediatrician


Home doctoring

Since I am a doctor and also a mummy, my friends ask me loads of child-health related questions.

I’ve noticed that they tend to ask these questions after having left the paediatrician’s office. It makes me think that these are questions that parents are normally too shy to ask their own paediatrician.

But, I understand. In Singapore, our healthcare system is busy, and appointments can seem rushed. Sometimes, parents may feel that asking too many question is an unnecessary waste of the doctor’s precious time, or maybe they don’t want to appear ignorant.

Parents, if you are reading this, do not fear your paediatrician! Your paediatrician is here to help you with your child, not question your intelligence or judge your immortal soul. [1]

Here are the top 10 questions that you should never feel afraid to ask during a paediatric consultation:

1. When can I expect my child to get better?

When kids are sick with ‘common’ ailments such as coughs, colds, or diarrhoea and vomiting, they will often remain unwell for a few days. Some colds and coughs can linger on for several weeks! Even with bacterial infections, it will take at least two days before the antibiotics take effect.

Ask your doctor when you can expect your child to get better. This will give you an idea of when a return visit to the clinic is necessary.

2. Are antibiotics really necessary?

A paediatrician or GP will often prescribe antibiotics because they feel that this is what parents expect. If you don’t expect antibiotic treatment for your child’s viral infection, ask if the prescription is necessary and find out if there are other ways you can manage your child’s condition.

3. Should I expect any side effects with this medicine?

All medicinal drugs have side effects, although most children will never suffer any problems at all. It is worth knowing the symptoms of common mild side effects as well as the signs of life-threatening ones so that you can monitor your child and make an informed decision on whether to continue or stop the medication, or when to seek help.

4. If my child has had an unpleasant reaction to a certain medicine, can he continue taking it in the future?

There is a difference between experiencing an unpleasant side effect to a medication and a true allergy.

If you child has experienced an unpleasant side-effect, the doctor might be able to help with that by choosing a different dosage or preparation or advising you on ways that you can administer the medication which will minimise the unpleasantness.

If your child experienced a true allergic reaction, then they can no longer take that medication or any other medication that is in the same chemical ‘family’.

5. How long should I continue to give the prescribed medication?

There are some medicines, such as antibiotics, where one must complete the entire course of treatment whether or not the child continues to exhibit symptoms of the illness. Other drugs, like cough syrups or paracetamol, are given only as long as the symptoms last.

6. Do I need to wake up my sleeping child at night in order to give them their dose?

Sometimes, the dosage instructions are not very specific. Find out how flexible the timing of the dosages are, and what to do if you miss a dose.

Tip: The best person to ask dosing advice is the dispensing pharmacist!

7. Can I give the prescribed medication together with over-the-counter drugs or traditional Chinese medicines?

It is usually not advisable to ‘mix and match’ different types of treatments. My grandfather, a traditional Chinese physician, always said that whichever method you choose to treat an illness, western medicine or Chinese medicine, follow the physician’s instructions strictly and do not mix the two.

Nevertheless, if you would like to include alternative medicine in your child’s management plan, it is worth discussing it with your doctor first. Most paediatricians are quite open-minded nowadays!

8. Why are we doing this test?

Before your child has an X-ray, MRI, or any potentially painful procedure (even a blood test), it is worth asking the doctor if the test is really necessary and how it is going to change your child’s management plan.

Make sure that the risks and benefits of the test are fully explained to you. You should able to clearly explain the procedure to your own child in order to prepare them for what is to come.

9. What are the results of the tests?

Generally, most parents are happy to assume that ‘no news is good news’. However, if you don’t receive the results of the tests after a reasonable length of time (a week) be sure to check in with the clinic.

10. Is there anything else I can do to help my child?

There are a host of simple remedies, therapies, and exercises that one can do at home to help boost the immune system, speed up the recovery process, and make your child feel more comfortable during the day. Knowing these things can help you to feel more confident in managing your sick kid at home and prevent unnecessary trips to the hospital.

Tip: Talk to the nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists working in the same department. They have plenty of experience with sick kids and you never know what useful advice they will have to offer!

I hope this helps! Parents should never have to leave the paediatrician’s office without getting all the information they need to understand everything that is going on with their sick child.

1. Although, I suppose some people might argue that the cost of private medical healthcare would require one to sell whatever soul is in one’s possession. This is entirely untrue. Consultation fees are not equivalent to an immortal soul. Maybe part of one. But certainly not a whole soul in pristine condition. I (and most others in the medical profession) personally do not endorse soul-trade, but if you are considering entering into negotiations with a doctor who accepts souls as currency, please consult your pastor or priest.