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Why don’t you have separate sick and well waiting rooms?

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Written by Suzanne Berman MD. Dr. Berman is a practicing general pediatrician in rural Tennessee.

We’re occasionally asked by families why we don’t have separate waiting rooms for sick and well patients.  It’s a good question, especially given that many pediatric offices are designed this way.  There are several reasons why we chose not to do this.

 What ‘s a “sick” visit vs. a “well” visit?  

The first problem is one of definition.   While some kids are very clearly sick and other kids are clearly well, many of the visits we do don’t fit nearly into one category or another.  Is a depressed teenager “sick” or “well” ?

What about a 4 year old with a possible urinary tract infection?   An infant who’s not gaining weight?  An 8-year-old with belly pain?   A better way to separate the waiting rooms would be a “contagious” waiting room and a “noncontagious” waiting room.

However…

Parents often don’t know whether a child is contagious or not when they check in.  

We don’t expect them to be – that’s our job.   If a child comes in with a new rash, it might be eczema (not contagious at all), chickenpox (very contagious), or ringworm (only very mildly contagious, and certainly not enough to keep them out of school or sports.)   Fifth disease is contagious and causes a rash – but once the rash appears, the child is no longer contagious.

Knowing whether the child is contagious (and how contagious, and for how long) first requires a medical evaluation – and that happens after the child has been brought back, not in the waiting room.

What about siblings? 

We often see double or triple appointments in a family.   If Dad brings in a 6-month-old baby for a checkup (a well visit) and his two year old sister for a cough (a sick visit), what side of the waiting room should the whole family sit on?

We could put the well baby on the sick side (since he’s already been exposed to the two year old’s illness, presumably), or we could put the sick child on the well side (to keep the well baby well.)   There’s no good answer.

And I can’t put a number on the times I’ve seen a well child who was accompanied by a parent who was coughing and sneezing uncontrollably.

It actually can make crowding in the waiting room worse.

Our office’s single large waiting area measures about 20 x 30 feet.   Let’s say we divided it in half, to create separate sick and well waiting areas, each about 20 x 15 feet.

In the summer, when 70 percent or more of our visits are “well,” our patients would be crammed in a much smaller room while our “sick room” would be underutilized.

The exact opposite would be true in the winter months –a crowded waiting room of sick children half as big as it could be.   When we have a single large area, we can make the most of our space; families can sit wherever they wish, near or far away from anyone else in the waiting room.

Parents are sometimes not honest about their child’s contagious condition.

I once reviewed a malpractice case in which the plaintiff contended that the defendant pediatrician didn’t recognize a baby’s sickness. The defendant’s attorney asked the plaintiff’s grandmother (who had brought the baby to the office) whether the grandmother chose the sick or well side.

The grandmother said, “We sat on the well side.”  The defendant’s attorney asked, “If the baby was sick, as you say, why did you sit on the well side?”   The grandmother replied, “Well, she wasn’t very sick at the time – just a little sneezing and cough.  And I didn’t want her catching something from the sick side.”

Honest parents will admit that they’re usually more concerned about keeping their own child away from other sick children, rather than worried that other well children will catch their child’s illness.

Our receptionists don’t want to police the waiting rooms.

Colleagues with separate sick and well waiting rooms tell me that their receptionists spend at least part of each day helping parents decide which waiting room to sit in, moving patients from one waiting room to another, or settling angry squabbles between two families who are convinced the other’s child is in the “wrong” area.

Our receptionists would rather check in patients quickly – validating insurance information, updating phone numbers, and processing questionnaires — rather than serving as “waiting room police.”

There’s no evidence separate sick and well waiting rooms make a difference in controlling the spread of infection.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ statement on controlling infection in pediatric offices states, “No studies document the need for, or benefit of, separate waiting areas for well and ill children.”

We believe that other commonsense precautions are more effective – like making masks, tissues, and hand sanitizer available in the waiting room; bringing children suspected of having an extremely contagious disease in through the back door; bringing extremely fragile/susceptible children back as soon as they enter the office.

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A Little Info On Wellness Visits

Written by David Sprayberry MD

As a pediatrician, I often have expecting parents who come in to interview me or my partner to decide if they want to use us as their pediatricians.

At the visit, we talk about how our practice works and we present them with the recommended schedule of well visits (established by the American Academy of Pediatrics). This schedule can be found here.

Parents are often surprised at the number of visits that are recommended.

If they want more information, we explain a bit about what goes on at a well visit and why they are important.

We mention that we review the growth and development of their child, perform a head to toe physical exam, provide guidance on things like feeding and safety, give immunizations, and perform a variety of screens, labs and other assessments depending on the age of the child.

If you look at the Bright Futures schedule linked above, you can see how involved some of these visits are. As a result of all that is required, the visits (including paperwork, tests, and vaccines) can take anywhere from 20-60 minutes, so parents should probably plan that it will take approximately an hour to complete the visit.

Some of the visits that are less involved (like the 9 month visit) may be faster and a few may take longer (like the 4 year and 11-12 year visit).

Another thing that sometimes surprises parents is how these well visits are billed and what charges are incurred during a well visit. Medical billing is complex and is based on a process called coding.

I will address that in an upcoming post. For the time being, think of your medical bill for an office visit as being similar to the bill you receive at a restaurant.

Dr. Sprayberry is a practicing pediatrician and believes there is more to medicine than shuffling patients in and out the door. To read more about Dr. Sprayberry’s medical trips to Kenya, visit his blog, Pediatrics Gone to the Dawgs.

Photo credit – AppleTree Learning Centers

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What is a diaper rash and is it serious?

Written by Joanna E. Betancourt MD FAAP

A diaper rash is any rash that develops inside the diaper area.

In mild cases, the skin might be red. In more severe cases, there may be painful open sores.

It is usually seen around the groin and inside the folds of the upper thighs and buttocks. Miles cases clear up within 3 to 4 days with treatment.

What causes diaper rash?

Over the years diaper rash has been blamed on many causes, such as teething, diet, and ammonia in the urine. However, we now believe it is caused by any of the following:

  • Too much moisture
  • Chafing or rubbing
  • When urine, stools, or both touch the skin for long period of time
  • Yeast infections
  • Bacterial infection
  • Allergic reaction to diaper material

When skin stays wet for too long, it starts to break down.

When wet skin is rubbed, it also damages more easily. Moisture from the soiled diaper can harm you baby’s skin and make it more prone to chafing. When this happens, a diaper rash may develop.

More than half of babies between 4 and 15 months of age develop diaper rash at least once in a 2-month period.

Diaper rash occurs more often when:

  • Babies get older-mostly between 8 to 10 months of age.
  • Babies are not kept clean and dry.
  • Babies have frequent stools, especially when the stool stay in their diaper overnight.
  • Babies have diarrhea
  • Babies begin to eat solid foods
  • Babies are taking antibiotics or in nursing babies whose mothers are taking antibiotics.

When to call the pediatrician?

Sometimes a diaper rashes need medical attention. Talk with your pediatrician if:

  • The rash does not look like it’s going away or gets worse 2 to 3 days after treatment.
  • The rash includes blisters or pus-filled sores.
  • Your baby is taking antibiotic and has a bright red rash with red spots at its edges. This might be a yeast infection.
  • Your baby has a fever along with a rash.
  • The rash is very painful. Your baby might have a skin condition called cellulitis.
  • What can I do if my baby gets diaper rash?

If your baby has a diaper rash (and to prevent future diaper rashes)

  1. It’s important to keep the area as clean and dry as possible. Change wet or soiled diaper right away. This helps cut down how much moisture is on the skin.
  2. Gently clean the diaper with water and a soft washcloth. Disposable diaper wipes may also be used. Avoid wipes that contain alcohol and fragrance.
  3. Use soap and water only if the stool does not come off easily. If the rash is severe, use a squirt bottle of water so you can clean and rinse without rubbing.
  4. Pat dry; do not rub. Allow the area to air-dry fully.
  5. Apply a thick layer of protective ointment or cream (such as on that contains zinc a oxide or petroleum jelly). These ointments are usually are usually thick and pasty and do not have to be completely removed at the next diaper change.
  6. Remember, heavy scrubbing or burring will only damage the skin more.
  7. Do not put the diaper on too tight, especially overnight. Keep the diaper loose so that the wet and soiled part does not rub against the skin as much.
  8. Use cream with steroids only if your pediatrician recommends them. They are rarely needed and may be harmful.
  9. Check with your pediatrician if the rash a) has blisters or pus-filled sores; does not go away within 2 to 3 days; Gets worse.

Many parents ask me if a cloth diaper is better than disposable diapers. Research suggests that diaper rashes are less common with the use of disposable diapers.

However, what is more important than the type of diaper is how often it is changed. Whether you use cloth diapers, disposables, or both, always change diapers as needed to keep your baby clean, dry, and healthy.

Hopefully, this little bit of background on diaper rashes give you some good insight about this condition that many babies have.

Dr. Betancourt is a board certified pediatricians and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She has 3 kids and gets a little grumpy when she doesn’t get a chance to workout at the gym at least 3-times a week. 

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Expecting a Child? Need to Find a Pediatrician? What Questions Should You Ask?

Written by Natasha Burgert MD

“Who is going to be the doctor for your new baby?”

Your OB wants to know. Your friends have asked. Your mother is wondering.

Finding a pediatrician is on the “to-do” list of all expectant mothers and fathers. New families often begin the search for a potential baby doctor by asking for recommendations from their OB doctor, family, and friends.

Some families begin by looking at the American Academy of Pediatrics website.Regardless of how you find a pediatrician, truly determining if a doctor is going to be a good match for your family is often done by interviewing.

I have seen plenty of glowing mothers-to-be sitting in my office with the seemingly standard “interview sheet” from babycenter.com or WhatToExpect.com.

Parents come to my office with a “recommended question list” because they don’t really know what to ask. This is certainly understandable since, for most families, interviewing a doctor is new territory.

But although these lists of questions are a good start, I don’t think they get to the heart of the matter.

What most parents really want to know is if a pediatrician is likable. Is this person going to be someone I can ask questions? Do we have something in common? Are we going to get along?

Compatibility is what most parents are searching for.

Here are 5 questions I would ask a potential baby doctor during an interview.

1. “Tell me about your office.”

Office hours and locations, contact numbers, hospital affiliations, and basic biographical information is fairly standard on every medical practice website. Use the web to get the basics, but let the doctor tell you where he thinks his office really shines.

This open-ended approach gives the doctor an opportunity to say what he thinks is the most important, interesting, or significant about the place where he works.

If the doctor does not cover any specific question you have about the function of the office, then ask.

2. “Why did you choose to become a pediatrician?”

The million dollar question. This is an opportunity for you to learn about the person behind the white coat. Of all the medical specialties, why did she choose to take care of kids?

3. “What are your thoughts on antibiotics and vaccinations?”

For most doctors in pediatric healthcare, antibiotics and vaccinations are common medical interventions.

How a doctor chooses to use antibiotics, and for what illnesses, does vary. With the increasing concern of antibiotic resistance and super-infections, having a physician who can clearly define when antibiotic use is appropriate for your child is important.

Vaccinations are a fundamental building block for child health. A physician’s beliefs and attitudes towards vaccinations will effect the recommendations they may or may not provide.

Also, some physicians will not see patients if the recommended vaccination schedule is not followed. Allowing a doctor to openly express his opinion on immunizations can begin productive dialog about this very important topic.

4. “What do you love about your job?”

Does this doctor have a passion for the underserved? Does he love to see kids with chronic illnesses, like asthma or ADHD? Does she love to teach?

Asking a doctor to share the best part of his job may reveal a common interest. Or, allow you to determine if your family’s needs will be best supported.

5. “What do you like to do outside of work?”

Pediatricians often look alike on paper. We all go to medical school, complete a pediatric residency, and get certified by the American Board of Pediatrics.

Asking the doctor what she enjoys doing outside of work may be enough to make the person on paper become a new partner in the care of your family.

Good luck in your search!

Dr. Burgert is a pediatrician. She works at Pediatrics Associates in Kansas City, MO .  She is a distance runner and enjoys road races around the city. She also has a passion for travel that will certainly lead to many memorable family vacations with her husband and two children. And, of course, she bleeds Husker red. Dr. Burgert regularly blogs at kckidsdoc.com

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Talking about gun safety is an important part of preventive counseling

Written by Seth D. Kaplan, M.D., F.A.A.P.

Counseling patients about safety issues is one of the most important parts of my role as a primary care pediatrician. One of the main goals of working with my patients is to reduce the risk of injury to children in the environments in which they live and play.

Thus, I spend time discussing potential problems related to seat belt use, tobacco exposure, storage of household chemicals, swimming, sun and playground safety, and more.

Talking about firearm safety and storage is part of this conversation as well.

The answers I get to questions about firearms are fascinating. Many people say, “We don’t own guns, so we don’t worry about this.” When asked if they know if there are guns in the houses of children their kids play with and if their kids would know what to do if they saw a gun, they often answer, “I hadn’t thought about that.”

Those who do have guns have a chance to talk about safe storage, and often have tips that I can pass on to other families, such as where parents can find good training courses for their kids, when appropriate.

I believe talking about gun safety and other safety-related issues is an important part of the preventive counseling I provide patients and their families. When the government tries to dictate what a physician and his or her patient can and cannot discuss in the confidential setting of an exam room, I no longer can perform the preventive aspects of pediatrics expected of me.

Thus, I applaud the decision of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, along with other groups, sued to block the law. Recently, a federal court declared the law unconstitutional, saying it was a violation of physicians’ First Amendment rights to speak with their patients about gun safety.

To learn more, read the court’s decision.

Dr Seth D. Kaplan, who practices general pediatrics in Frisco, TX, but finds every excuse he can to get out to the ballpark. Go Rangers! 

Dr. Kaplan posts topics on Facebook at TLC Pediatrics of Frisco.

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What Does A Growth Chart Tell The Pediatrician?

Today, we have a great video from Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson. In this video, she explains what are important things one, as a parent, should look for and what are the not so important things to look for when checking your child’s growth. She also explains when to be concerned and what the chart actually tells your pediatrician.

The video is just 2:49 seconds, but it has a lot of great information. Make sure to check it out.

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Dr. Google, Friend or Foe?

Written by Natasha Burgert MD

Two articles recently caught my eye while I was spending some time on Twitter. First, an op-ed piece was published on Time.com discussing how patients and doctors perceive the use of the online health information. The article was closely followed by the results of a recent PEW research study which stated that 80% of Americans used the internet to “prepare for or recover from” their doctor visit.

The results of the PEW study were less than surprising to me. Everyday I have a concerned mom or anxious dad refer to something they have read online.

Everyday.

And, everyday I get to learn about new articles and websites that are claiming to have reputable health information. I learn from my families who bring in articles and links, and often share the good information with other families who may be struggling with the same concerns.

As a medical doctor who regularly navigates the web, however, I did not expect nor appreciate the author’s tone in the Time.com piece. I was made to feel that all doctors were like lazy cattle, being poked with an electric switch towards a glowing computer screen.

I find that troubling as a practicing pediatrician. Although doctors have traditionally been thought of as “late-adopters,” not all of us fit that archaic mold. There are many, many doctors who are embracing e-communication of all types within their daily medical practice. And all successful doctors practice “shared clinical decision-making” with their families, regardless if the internet is a piece of the information puzzle.

How can you discuss online health information with your physician, without being labeled a “cyberchondriac?”

Here are some things to consider before you approach your provider with some internet research of your own.

Critique what you find

Commercial advertisers and agenda-based groups can be very deceiving online. Does the information have sources to original, peer-reviewed medical articles?

Who is writing the article, and what are their credentials? Who is paying for the study to be completed? Are there a lot of banner ads, or references to a certain brand of product? Does the writer of the article have financial interest in the items they recommend? Dr. Meisel did state this well, saying,

Many patients are going to discover the best online health information way before their doctors do. They, too, have a responsibility: patients will need to signal to their doctor how they conducted their search in a way that was smart, directed and grounded in evidence. Only then will the Google stack be recognized and used in a helpful, not counterproductive, fashion.

My favorite public sites for health information include:

  • Is your child sick? This feature is on our practice’s website to give families some information about common childhood symptoms. The site also give some guidance about what symptoms are concerning enough to contact the on-call physician.
  • www.uptodate.com This is a very well-designed site providing general information on health conditions and their treatments.
  • www.healthychildren.org A website full of childhood health information developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • www.cdc.gov General information on illness, vaccines, and travel concerns.
  • www.vaccine.chop.edu Complete, concise vaccine information.

If your provider allows, send links and articles to your doctor before the visit

Bring a list of keywords that you searched. This allows your doctor to look over the information more critically, and hopefully more thoughtfully. If your doctor does not allow you to provide information prior to your appointment, don’t expect organized discussion about your findings in a brief appointment slot. Thinking about online information critically is a time-consuming process. Give your provider ample time to look over the information after your appointment.

Be prepared for a “no”

It may be possible, that despite your best efforts, keywords or articles you have found may have been misleading. If your physician disagrees with some online information you have found, it is very appropriate to ask, “Why?” Your provider should explain why the information may not be relevant or appropriate for your specific situation, hopefully providing alternate online references to help continue your search.

We are partners

Bring information to your provider with an attitude of partnership and shared decision-making. No one likes a confrontation. Navigating health online information is a learning process for all of us. If we don’t listen to each other, we don’t learn.

If patients and doctors can have open dialog about information found online – good and bad – we can take care of patients better. And that is more than Dr. Google could ever do alone.

Dr. Burgert is a pediatrician. She works at Pediatrics Associates in Kansas City, MO .  She is a distance runner and enjoys road races around the city. She also has a passion for travel that will certainly lead to many memorable family vacations with her husband and two children. And, of course, she bleeds Husker red. Dr. Burgert regularly blogs at kckidsdoc.com