Doctor's office etiquette

10 tips to keep your child -- and you -- well behaved in the waiting room

Languishing in the waiting room at the doctor’s office can be tedious at best. Add an antsy – and possibly ill – child (or a few) to the mix and it may become a bit more challenging for everyone to stay patient, composed and courteous. “Parents need to remember that we’re providing a service,” says Dr. Gary Smith, a community paediatrician at Orillia Soldiers Memorial Hospital in Orillia, Ont., and a spokesperson for the Canadian Paediatric Society. “We need their help to be able to make it the best service possible.” To ensure your visit – and the office – runs smoothly, read on for 10 simple rules to abide by at the paediatrician’s office.

1. Be specific when you make the appointment When scheduling your appointment, let the receptionist know what the visit is for and how long you will need. “Our days are very structured and we usually only allot 10 to 15 minutes per routine visit,” says Smith. “If you have more than one concern and need time to discuss, let the receptionist know so they can book accordingly, otherwise the doctor gets behind and no one is happy.” If you have multiple children who need to be seen, book multiple appointments instead of piggy-backing, and be sure to consider time of day – it may not be wise to schedule a visit when your child should be napping, Smith says.

2. Phone or email ahead An email or phone call to get the doctor’s opinion about whether or not you need to come in can sometimes save you the trip. “If it’s a common cold, do other parents and kids a favour and stay home,” Smith says. “You’d be surprised at how many doctors are willing to discuss over the phone.” If your doctor hasn’t told you about his policy about phone calls and emails, ask the receptionist. Paediatricians may offer this service for a price.
3. Make a courtesy call If you’re running late or are unable to make your appointment, let the office know. Chances are they can put your vacant space to good use and find another time or day to accommodate you.

4. Make a list For multiple concerns, and especially for new moms (who are often overwhelmed and forgetful), it’s important to prepare a list of topics you’d like to cover, or make notes on symptoms you’d like to discuss. Also, be sure to broach the most important concern first to avoid what Smith calls the “doorknob problem. “Many parents save the most complicated concern for the end, when I’m practically turning to doorknob to leave.”

5. Involve your child If your child is old enough, prepare them in advance of the appointment so they know what to expect. While there, encourage them to express how they’re feeling to the doctor. Be sensitive to their anxiety and pain – try not to minimize or pretend a needle doesn’t hurt – with gentle touches and hugs.

6. Go prepared While many paediatricians’ offices are equipped with toys and books, it’s smart to bring your child’s favourite doll, blanket, or even a colouring book and crayons to keep them happy and busy. You may also want to pack a snack and some water or juice.
7. Minimize the entourage If you’re able, leave siblings behind or enlist another adult to help wrangle the extra kids. “This will help both the parent and the doctor to focus during a visit,” Smith says.

8. Keep the volume down A paediatrician’s waiting room is busy and noisy. Help to keep it manageable by turning your cell phone to vibrate, shushing your children when they get excited and resisting the urge to raise your own voice when patience wears thin.

9. Contain the germs If your child is sneezy and sniffly, do your best to keep a respectful distance from other families.

10. Tidy up “It would be wonderful if parents’ cleaned up after their kids,” Smith says somewhat wistfully. You’re essentially a visitor in someone else’s home, so be sure to pick up empty drink boxes, snack wrappers and soggy tissues, and make sure the toys your children played with aren’t left where people may trip.