Health Literacy and Partnering in Your Child's Care
Nov 19, 2015
As a parent, you probably consider yourself a health expert when it comes to your own child. Only you know how to decode the signs that mean your little one isn’t feeling quite right. Sometimes you know she’s sick before she even does.
As a pediatrician, I count on parents being that type of expert and see them as a critical partner in their child’s healthcare. Health literacy—being able to find, read, understand, and use information in order to care for your child—helps make this partnership work.
We know there’s an overwhelming amount of complicated information about your child’s health, and we’re working to communicate more clearly. While we do that, here are some health literacy tips you can use before (and during) your next pediatrician’s visit. These will help you and your child get the most out of the appointment – and reduce your chances of needing to come back or visit the emergency room.
Write down what and when. Before the appointment, write down what your child’s main symptoms are, if the symptoms impact his behavior, when the symptoms started and if the symptoms are always there or come and go. Bring your symptom list to the visit. Having notes to refer to can help ensure you don’t forget anything, and help the doctor make the right diagnosis.
Please repeat that. Many doctors, me included, may use words or explanations that are difficult to understand. If this happens– stop your pediatrician and ask her to explain it to you in a different way. Better yet, tell them what you understood them to say in your own words. This gives them a chance to clarify or confirm that everyone is on the same page. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or say it in your ow words. The better you understand what’s happening with your child’s health, the better you’ll be able to take care of them.
Ask how long. Before you leave, ask your physician when she thinks your child will start feeling better and what types of symptoms would prompt another doctor’s appointment.
Take notes. Jotting down notes during the visit can help you keep track of details and instructions. If your physician is comfortable with it, record the appointment on your smartphone. If your child is really sick or has a complex medical problem, bring a friend or relative who can act as a second pair of ears.
Get a resource referral. Ask your pediatrician if they have any favorite websites, apps or books that they think are reliable sources of health information.
Do a med check. Medicine labels and dosing instructions can be tricky– but it’s critical that you know how to give your child medicine. Pharmacists are excellent resources that can help you decipher a bottle label, measure a medication, and understand what side effects to look out for.
Health literacy – pass it on. Around the age of 5 or 6, encourage your kids to interact with the pediatrician to talk about symptoms and ask questions. Teenagers can fill out their own medical forms. This teaches your child how to communicate about their health– an important lifelong skill.
When you have good health literacy, chances are your children will be healthier, too. Don’t forget that physician’s assistants and nurses can also be amazing sources of information and advice.
Mary Ann Abrams, MD, MPH, is a member of the Section of Ambulatory Pediatrics, medical director of GME Quality Improvement, vice-chair of GMEC, MOC portfolio manager at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and clinical assistant professor and longitudinal group substitute facilitator at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.
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