Dealing with difficult doctors X: the poor examiner

Here is another post from my recent book How to Talk To Your Child’s Doctor. It’s about how to handle a doctor whom I call the poor examiner.

It sounds difficult to believe, but some doctors are simply not good examiners of children. I do not mean that they were not properly trained or that they are incompetent; they simply are not smooth when performing an exam. You will virtually never find this quality in pediatricians or exclusively pediatric subspecialists, but you will occasionally meet physicians whose scope of practice spans the pediatric age spectrum but who are much more proficient in examining older patients than they are dealing with children.

Sometimes this problem is largely a social one; every parent knows it takes a special knack to put a toddler, older child, or adolescent at ease during a physical examination. Each of these developmental stages has its own particular nuances, and facility in examining children from infancy to young adulthood is something some doctors never really master. Even though a doctor’s examination may be effective in that she correctly identifies the problem, she may still make the child or the parents uncomfortable with how she does it.

If you and your child are dealing with a physician like this, your new knowledge that you obtained from this book of how doctors routinely examine children can help the situation. You can reassure your child about what is going on and what comes next, something the doctor ought to do but may forget, given her particular communication problem. You can help the doctor position your child for the examination, such as for a toddler’s ear check or a school-age child’s abdominal examination. In my experience, most physicians of this sort appreciate such parental assistance very much because they fully realize examining children, especially uncooperative children, is not their strong suit.


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