The Art of Managing Professionals & Appointments
Parent’s Bill of Rights And Parent Responsibilities
by Lisa Ackerman
Not a month goes by when Jeff does not have a follow-up appointment scheduled with any number of specialists. Having the diagnoses of autism, apraxia, and auditory processing issues, our team of specialists are many and include: a pediatrician, neuropsychologist, learning specialist, speech pathologist, occupational therapists, behavioral supervisor, audiologist, special education attorney and other professionals. Scheduling, getting on wait lists, tracking open items, treatment plans, annual (or more frequent) follow-up blood tests, and future events is enough to boggle the mind of the most organized of organizers – let alone keep track of a team!
Over the past four years, I find scheduling these events, attending the appointments, and absorbing the information gets easier as time passes. The first year of this process was a blur, and after re-reading the reports now, I can see I missed a lot of information. My lack of preparation and expectations could have a lot to do with that.
Today, I feel like I have an advanced degree in something with an understanding of a once foreign language. Each day that passes, I know that I have much more to learn. And as I have aged, Miss Manners and my mom have gotten to me – I need to be prepared for these appointments! Even though having a special needs child or children is challenging, there are some ideas for you to consider implementing for a more successful interaction with professionals like the doctors, specialists, and paraprofessionals working with your child.
First, Your Rights
- You have the right to receive the services/products you paid for and were advertised.
- You have the right for you and your child to be treated with respect and dignity.
- You have the right to fully evaluate and look into a professional prior to securing an appointment.
- You have the right to provide information for a report or correct errors in a report prepared by a professional.
- You have the right to share or not to share reports with whom you deem appropriate on your child’s team.
- You have the right to know about all fees and an estimate for products/services prior to your appointment or commitments.
- You have the right to receive written reports or follow-up documents in a timely stated time frame (if applicable).
It is my goal to share this information after making many mistakes, having missed expectations, spending hard-earned money on reports of little value, and worse, wasting time. I have been late to appointments, cried more than I spoke at appointments, and have forgotten crucial documents and test results. Early on, I had to contend with Jeff’s potty accidents, tantrums in the waiting room, and the like. This was always followed by apologies to the professional, sometimes a note, and embarrassment. So, here are my lessons learned in the hope that families may better set expectations in making and keeping professional appointments happy and a good use of YOUR time.
Some General Miss Manners
- Be on time for appointments or call ahead when running late.
- Be prepared.
- Fill out questionnaires ahead of time – send appropriate file and report information prior to your appointment.
- Be kind to staff – starting on the right foot with a smile can make a huge difference.
- Turn off your cell phone!
An important lesson: Not every resource works for every family. Frequently, at support group meetings, I hear one parent praising a resource for everything they do, and minutes later, I hear the exact opposite reaction from another parent regarding their great dislike for the exact same resource. It is important to ask questions about a referral before you spend valuable time and money with a professional. I have found that obtaining recommendations from parents or at support group meetings is better than professional recommendations. For each professional you need, I suggest reviewing at least three professionals who provide a similar product or service. In addition, I would talk to as many parents as you can prior to choosing a professional.
Some Suggestions For Good Questions For Parent Referrals
- What did you like about what they did for your child?
- What is the specialist known for?
- How did you hear about them?
- What did you like least about the specialist?
- What are/were your goals for seeing the specialist?
- How timely are they with necessary reports and follow up information?
- How long have you worked with them?
- What results or outcomes were experienced by your child?
- Were the fees reasonable for the products/services?
Once you find a professional that meets your criteria, it is time to secure an appointment. The process of getting an appointment involves long wait lists and enormous case loads, which can be frustrating. Try securing an appointment first, then asking for information about the professional in a separate call. Appointments typically can be cancelled, but be sure to know about any cancellations fees and policies ahead of time!
To get to know the professional and the products and/or services, here are some good questions to consider. Office managers are often a good resource for detailed information about a professional and their products and services.
Some Questions & Tips For Doctors and Other Appointments
- What are the fees?
- How long are appointments?
- Is there a cancellation fee for missed appointments? How long do I have to cancel an appointment without being charged?
- What paperwork is needed prior to an appointment (e.g. evaluation forms, new patient and insurance forms, previous evaluations, diagnosis information, etc.) Who should these be sent to? Will the doctor review them prior to the appointment?
- What affiliations of associations does the specialist belong to? (Ask for the association contact information if you need it.)
- Does the specialist speak at or attend any conferences, support groups, etc?
- Should you bring help (as in a babysitter) to the consultation portion of your appointment prior to the child examination? (This is highly recommended for long appointments.)
- Call ahead for insurance coverage information and for pre-approval processes before your appointment.
- If reports are provided – what are the timelines for delivery?
- Who should receive the report? Note: It is important to identify who a report goes to PRIOR to your appointment. This should be done in writing.
- What hours can appointments be set? (After school, weekend or after hours appointment availability is sometimes available. If not, it may be wise to schedule these appointments ahead of time with school holiday breaks in mind.) In addition, ask them if a morning or afternoon appointment is best for the type of tests that need to be performed.
- If a long wait list is in front of you, are cancellation appointments available and how are these offered?
- Ask if appointments can be audiotaped for reference later (versus note-taking during an appointment, which can lead to missing an important piece of advice.)
- How are treatment plans communicated?
- How frequent should visits occur?
Okay, So You Have An Appointment - What's Next? Here Are Some Ideas For Making Appointments Successful
- The all important binder: should include all medical history, tests, or other information that is easy to grab and go out the door. Make copies, don’t take originals out of the house.
- An appointment buddy: could include your spouse, older sibling, babysitter, or grandparent. Bottom line, an extra pair of hands for instructions and downtime during the appointment is very valuable.
- An “appointment bag” including entertainment such as a portable DVD player (under $50 at Wal-Mart), favorite toy or activities for long waits. Include highly motivating snacks and drinks.
- Scheduling ideas. Do not schedule appointment times during nap time or when a child is sick.
- Child is ready to go. It is a good idea to have a child with a full, happy belly, and a clean diaper (or underwear). Odds are better for having a good appointment with a happy kid.
- Give your child insight on the day’s events. Explain what is going to happen, how long the appointment should take and what neat activity follows. Follow up with reassuring input throughout the visit.
I have met so many wonderful professionals as part of this journey. They have provided a lot of value to my son Jeff. However, there was a small percentage of professionals that were either having a bad day or just not what I hoped for as an advisor in the process.
Some Professionals' Red Flags To Consider
- Professionals who show up habitually late for appointments without an apology. Occasionally, this happens but it is not professional for it to occur with each and every appointment.
- Disrespect or ill treatment of a child or family member.
- Changes in promises made to families.
- Professionals who noticeably have not read any reports or information sent prior to the appointment (i.e. they are reading them for the first time while you are sitting there paying for time. Granted, reports and files can be thick, and time can be scarce, but a casual reading should occur prior to your appointment).
- Rude, untrained, or unprofessional staff or specialist.
- Follow-up/add-on products that can only be purchased in their office.
Bottom line: follow your gut feeling. If something does not feel right, ask questions. If something does not go well, let their office know immediately. Not every appointment can be perfect every time. At a minimum, professionals are paid for their time, products, or services and the experience should be at minimum–professional!
Now, this is a lot of advice to absorb. And no, I don’t perform each task on every professional. But many times, I do hours of research before I actually make an appointment. I find that with each professional I talk to, I gain more insight on how to help my son. They each have provided a crucial piece of the puzzle and input on a treatment plan for Jeff. And each day Jeff improves–so these appointments and headaches are not a waste of time, but time well spent. I hope this input provides your family with some things to consider in making professional interactions successful for you and your child.