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Partnering With Your Child's Health Care Provider

Learn the value of properly selecting a health care provider for your child.
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The birth of a child leads to many important decisions for parents, some of which begin in pregnancy: a baby's name, a health care provider for the mother, a delivery plan. One that will have long-lasting impact is your choice of a health care provider for your child. (See our site article for tips on making this decision.)

Once you've made that choice, the next crucial step is to establish a relationship with that provider, for in today's world both parents and providers play a role in keeping children healthy.

An Evolving Relationship
The relationship between parents and providers is changing. For our parents and our grandparents, the doctor served as the sole authority and was expected to have all of the answers for every question. The family told the doctor about the problem and the doctor told them what to do.

But many of today's parents may find this model to be unworkable. First, there are many more treatments and options to choose from. Second, parents nowadays want to be more involved in decisions, active rather than passive participants in their child's care.

Many health care providers now believe the best relationship is a partnership. Providers are the experts on health information, diagnosis, and treatment; parents are the experts on their child. Together, they make better decisions. For young children, these decisions are most often made during well child visits and also during visits for illness or problems.

Visits for Illness or Problems
When your child is sick or has some other difficulty, you want to know what's wrong and what to do about it. That hasn't changed since our parents' day. What has changed is the amount and variety of information available to health care providers, which makes both diagnosis and treatment much more complex.

Again, it appears that the best decisions are made when parents and providers act as partners. This is known as shared-decision making. A parent's job is to give accurate information about an illness or problem to the provider. A provider's job is to know the options and explain them to a family. Together, they can agree on the best plan of action.

Take ear infections, for example. There are choices about whether to use antibiotics, which antibiotic to give, how quickly to start the medication, and even what to do if ear infections happen over and over again. Many illnesses offer a similar variety of options, and the same is true for parenting and behavior issues. The best approach for an individual child depends on what works best for that child and that family. The key is always the partnership between parents and providers.

A Partnership for the Future
As you choose a health care provider for your child, keep in mind that you are looking for someone to serve as a partner in decisions. You'll certainly want someone with whom you feel comfortable and who clearly respects you as a parent. A word of caution: Some providers have been trained to use a more traditional approach. So it's best to ask right away how a given provider feels about partnering and sharing decisions.

Fostering a partnership takes time and energy, but it's well worth the effort. Working together, you and your child's provider can help your child stay as healthy, safe, and happy as possible.

About the Author: Stephen Muething, M.D., is currently the associate director in the Division of General Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, leading a team that performs more than 60,000 primary care visits and cares for more than 3,500 inpatients annually. He is also the director of the Diagnostic Clinic for Cincinnati Children's Hospital. Since 2001, Dr. Muething has served as one of the key physicians in the Pursuing Perfection initiative at Cincinnati Children's, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in conjunction with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Dr. Muething is now a graduate of the Advanced Training Program in Healthcare Delivery Improvement at Intermountain Health Care in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dr. Muething has been a co-leader for the Acute Care Team at Cincinnati Children's, which has focused on designing an evidence-based, family-centered care system for children in the Cincinnati area. Results of the work have been presented at the annual meetings of the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions (NACHRI), the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality (NICHQ), the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), and the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS).

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