When You Call the Doctor

It is stressful enough to be a parent of a healthy baby. It is many times more stressful to make decisions when your child is sick. What medicine to use, and whether to use any medicine at all? Take the child to the hospital now, or wait till morning and then call the office for an appointment? What food or liquid give to the baby? These questions must be answered promptly. That is why we pediatricians are available 24/7: just call our answering service and be connected to a doctor on call.

When to call?

We are here to help you, and do not mind at all midnight calls about urgent problems.  Some examples include: fever in a baby younger than two months; wheezing or trouble breathing; vomiting that won’t stop; fever that is accompanied by rash, etc. (A more complete list may be available in your pediatrician’s handouts.)

If you think you may have a true medical emergency, call 911 immediately. However, in most cases it is a good idea to call your pediatrician before heading to urgent care or ER. After you describe the problem to your doctor, we can make a decision if your child needs to be taken to ER now. Your pediatrician will tell you whether to go to the nearest hospital or urgent care, or go to a facility that is better equipped to handle your child’s problem. There is also a high chance you do not need to take your child in now, but can wait to see your doctor in the office. In fact, a big portion of the children that are seen by ER doctors are non-emergent cases.

Another good reason to contact us is when the treatment that we prescribe is not available at your pharmacy. Please call us, or ask the pharmacist to call us, before you leave the pharmacy.

When not to call?

I greatly appreciate when non-urgent issues are addressed during the day time hours. Some examples include: constipation for the last two days; rash for past two months, etc. Temperatures under 101F in children older than three months are not considered fever, so you may give over-the-counter fever reducer if your child is uncomfortable, or just watch your child without any treatment and call for an appointment when the office opens in the morning.

Yes, during the office hours you can call and talk to the nurse. If she feels that you need to bring your baby in, she will tell you so after confirming it with the doctor.

Describing the symptoms.

Describe your child’s symptoms in regular words. Medical terms are often misused by parents. For example, very common complaint that I hear is that a child is “lethargic“. Parents use this word to describe that the sick child is less active than usually, when in fact the word means “unresponsive, in a near-comatose state”. Or sometimes a parent says that the baby “sounds croupy“, which turns out to be congestion in the nose and has nothing to do with croup or cough. Use of medical language in those situations hinders the clear understanding by a doctor of what your child’s problem is, and may lead to unnecessary treatment or ER visits.

Please measure the temperature with a thermometer (not with your hand), and tell us the precise temperature reading rather than vague terms such as “fever”, “high temperature”, etc.

Be prepared that it is not necessarily your child’s regular doctor who will be answering the phone tonight. We doctors often work in groups, and rotate the night duty. Even if you are not very pleased with the fact that you have to speak to a doctor whom you never met, please be nice, and you will get the professional advice and the information you are looking for.


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