Navigating the Health Care Maze

Navigating the Health Care Maze
Apr. 302024

I’m want to tell you what pediatricians used to do decades ago, but I want you to understand that we didn’t have today’s resources, and we were incredibly inefficient with our time. On the other hand we didn’t have the same challenges with insurance that we do now. So, what was it like? Pediatric offices were available six days a week, but the pediatricians also went to the hospital twice a day to see inpatients and newborns, and we also made house calls, especially for patients who didn’t have a car available. Usually that meant the mom was home with the child while the husband drove to work. We were available for phone calls at all times. If there was an emergency, we met the child in the office or at the emergency department. We also ran to the hospital to attend a Cesarean section or premature birth. We often took time to sew up small lacerations. We billed the patients, and they dealt with the insurance. If there was a financial problem, we worked out a payment plan or reduced the fees.

I do not miss those days! And not because I didn’t like doing any of that, but because it was so exhausting. Fatigue sets you up for errors. Also, there are often better choices for a particular problem. Today we have pediatric-trained emergency medicine specialists, walk-in clinics, and full-time neonatologists as well as access to specialists, nurses, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants. But how do you know who to use first?

Prepare in advance. Have the names and addresses of the facilities you need written down. If you are out, a babysitter should know how to call you and also your pediatrician. If you are home, a pediatrician is usually your first call. The office may have trained nurses to answer questions late at night. They are happy to help if you have a question that can’t wait until morning. If you or they feel it’s necessary to speak directly to the doctor, you will be connected.

If your child is having serious difficulties such as persistent vomiting, persistent pain, very high fever that you cannot control, difficulty breathing, or trouble being alert (not because they’re sleepy), you need to get to the emergency department. Any drive of more than 15 minutes should probably be taken by ambulance. If you’re not sure, call your pediatrician. If your child is complaining of an ear infection, a bad sore throat, or other symptoms that you cannot control and the office is closed, a walk-in clinic may be an alternative. You should be familiar with your doctor’s office hours. These days someone may be available quite late.

You may have concerns that are specific to your child’s problems. For some children with chronic illness in our area the best place to be is Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Discuss this with your pediatrician and specialist before you drive all the way to Hartford.

Finally, injuries involving bones and joints may best be handled at an orthopedic walk-in clinic. Check with your doctor about availability.

What if English isn’t your first language? It’s true that many doctors will speak your language, but if your English is not good, make sure you have an adult to help you with your calls and visits. Please don’t rely on your child to interpret.

I hope this short article helps you prepare for the worst. But I hope even more that you never have to use that information.

Meet the Author: Dr. Robert Golenbock
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