But unfortunately, mistakes do happen.
There are some steps that you can take to avoid the most common mistakes though.
Ask QuestionsAmong the most important things you can do to prevent mistakes is to make sure that your doctor understands what you think is going on with your child. This can help avoid a common scenario where a mistake can be made when your doctor just assumes that your child has the same thing as all of the other sick kids that he or she has been seeing.
There is a common saying in medicine, 'When you see hoof prints, think horses - not zebras.' This means that common things are common and that you shouldn't always chase after less common things. But you still have to think of the zebras though. Every once in a while someone leaves a gate open at the zoo, and those hoof prints might not be from a horse...
If you take your infant to the doctor with a mild cough and some wheezing in the middle of winter, then he will likely assume that your child has RSV like everyone else.
Or if your child has been sick each month through the winter, then most Pediatricians will just think that she is catching different viruses as they go through the community.
And once your Pediatrician sees 5-10 kids with vomiting and diarrhea, she will likely be quick to think that the next kid with vomiting has the same virus as everyone else.
Since common things are common, your doctor will likely be right in all three of these scenarios, but they could also be signs of more serious illnesses. You can help your doctor recognize if that is the case by asking questions, especially if your are not comfortable with your doctor's diagnosis.
It may be that a stomach virus is going around, but you might ask why your child has already been vomiting for a week, doesn't have diarrhea and is waking up with severe headaches. Does that still sound like a stomach virus?
Or maybe kids do get sick a lot in the winter, but your child isn't around many other people that are sick, doesn't go to school or day care and no one else at home has been getting sick. Add the fact that your child hasn't gained any weight in three months and never seems to fully recover, and maybe further testing has to be done before assuming it is just a virus.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't trust your doctor. In fact, one of the best ways to avoid mistakes is to find a doctor that you know and trust. But you shouldn't be afraid to ask questions or try to get a better explanation if you aren't sure about your doctor's diagnosis.
Chronic ProblemsYou can also help to avoid mistakes by reminding your doctor about your child's medical history. This is especially helpful if your child has complex or chronic medical problems.
Remind your doctor that he has already seen your child for this rash two other times, or that she has been concerned and following your child's head size or weight loss, or that the same thing happened last year at this time.
'Gentle' reminders might include saying something like:
- Do you think this is the same rash you saw last time?, or
- Do you think this is related to his weight loss?, or
- Do you think this is related to that cyst is his brain that we have been watching?, or
- Do you think this is going to turn into a bad asthma attack like it did last year?
Medication ErrorsTo avoid medication errors, ask your doctor and your pharmacist about your child's medication allergies.
You should also ask about your child's prescriptions. What is the name of the medicine, the dosage, how often should it be given? What is it for? This can help you catch an error if the pharmacy makes a mistake filling the prescription.
It can also be helpful to keep a list of your child's medicines with the dosage of each written down, or better yet, bring them all to your doctor's visits.
Other Steps You Can Take
- Ask about test results. Don't assume that no news is good news. Sometimes doctor's offices lose track of test results or they are never reported, so if you don't hear from your doctor, call to ask about test results.
- Get a second opinion if you are not happy or comfortable with your child's medical care.
- Ask about other treatment options.