This is going to be an ongoing series on Health Literacy. Explaining some of the things that I think you wish you knew. 

I see patients for a living. Occasionally I am a patient, or my husband or kids are patients, but generally, I am the one seeing the patients. And I love my job, but sometimes patients make my job harder, and they do not realise it. So this is the first in a series of posts about being a health consumer.

baby doctor check up

So, before you take yourself or your little to see a nurse or a doctor, here are some things I wish you knew:

1. Let us ignore your child.

When you first bring your child into a consult room, you are so eager to get us to fix the little one, that we have no time to get a sense of what is going on.

Ever gotten frustrated at the Nurse or Doctor, when they have ‘ignored’ your child, or persistently asked you questions instead of grabbing up your precious one and immediately started fixing them??

Believe it or not they are assessing your little one, from across the room. The assessment starts when you are called from the waiting room, and continues on from there. Things like effort to breathe, level of consciousness, irritability, posture, distractability are all being assessed while we ask you questions. Finer things are assessed whilst we ask you questions – is your child trying to get down, taking an interest in their surroundings or lying listless in your arms? What do they look like, what limb are they favouring, is there anything that we need to ask further about.

Also, by us all taking a moment to get our bearings in the room, your child often calms. And in that period of grace, there is an opportunity for the HP (Health Professional) to develop a rapport with your child and make the next phase go smoother. And if the gods are smiling and you have worn the right colour undies and everyone has played their roles, then we might even complete the exam with minimal tears, for you, your child and the HP!


2.  Paracetamol, ibuprofen and increased water intake is good to start taking almost regardless of which minor illness you have. Increased water is good when you or your child is well, let alone if you are unwell. A child who is tolerating small frequent sips of fluid AND weeing, is generally a child not in a danger zone. We will want to know this.

3. We do not get hot and sweaty over how hot your little one got. The higher the number on your thermometer does NOT equal how sick your tot is. We are more interested in activity levels and whether they perk up with some paracetamol or ibuprofen on board.

4. We will believe you. If you say you or your child has fever or pain, we will believe you. So give the paracetamol/ ibuprofen before coming in – it makes our assessment better and will not mask any conditions.

5. Don’t diagnose your child, it can mislead your health care professional. It is a phenomenon called ‘diagnostic momentum.’ Yes, your child might have a condition that you are an expert in. Offer it as a medical history- a good HP, if they are not well versed in that condition, will ask YOU for more info.

But do not walk in and state ‘My child has XYZ diagnosis.’

By all means, tell us what has been happening – but stick to symptoms, and let us dig out extra information as we need it. This means we get an entire picture and are much less likely to miss something.

A diagnosis comes from more than just a symptom, it comes from a health picture, and that comes together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Common sense disclaimer:

I take no responsibility for application of any of these tips. This is generalised advice and does NOT take the place of an assessment performed by a health care professional.