How the Doctor/Parent Relationship Can Impact Immunization Decisions
Feb 24, 2012

Last year at this time my ten-year old daughter was in and out of the doctor’s office, ER and then finally admitted to the hospital as we struggled to diagnose and treat what proved to be a dangerous health issue.
During the parade of doctors, interns, nurses and technicians that we encountered along the way, many would inquire what she wanted to be when she grew up.  I presumed they were simply making small talk or hoping to hear that she wanted to pursue a career in the field of medicine.  While that is certainly not the case for my budding fashionista, who dreams of designing her own line of clothes, I discovered that I was the one with a bit of career envy. 
The fact is, when your child is in pain and you have more questions than answers, it can be quite nerve-racking.  While I certainly felt that the medical staff had her best interest at heart, I couldn’t help but wish I had the medical training to take care of these issues myself.  I couldn’t help but wish I had become a doctor so that I wouldn’t have to rely on others for all the answers.
What was even more frustrating was that during the course of this ordeal, the various doctors and specialists often had a difference of opinion about her diagnosis.  I quickly realized that while science can often provide us with hard evidence, there are times when it is an intricate puzzle.  Fortunately for us, after a total of about three weeks and numerous tests, the puzzle came together and we had a clear understanding of the problem at hand.
However, when it came time to decide on treatment, the doctors again presented a choice of recommendations.  Ultimately, my husband and I were responsible for making the final decision, but we would have been foolish not to rely on the training, advice and experience of our daughter’s doctors.

Through this experience I realized some important things about the doctor/parent relationship.

First, parents and doctors must trust one another.
There’s never enough that can be said about the importance of trust but I think this sums it up well.  Trust is a delicate thing; it’s difficult to earn, yet it’s easy to lose. 
Parents and doctors must rely on one another.    
As parents we expect doctor’s to have superior medical training, an abundance of real life experience and a wide variety of skilled expertise to properly diagnose and treat our children.  However, doctors must also rely on parents to be observant of their child’s symptoms and remain attentive to their children’s needs during treatment.  They must rely on parents to stay calm and yet be flexible in order to form a good working partnership.
Parents and doctors must understand one another.    
I’ll be the first to confess that I ask a lot of questions.  It’s just my inquisitive nature.  Plus, it’s important to me that I do my best to understand any medical treatment that is being considered.  In my personal experience, I have had a few doctors that have gotten quite upset by this.  They may not have the luxury of time to explain things to me, or they may have felt that I was questioning their abilities.  But at the end of the day, the doctors that I feel most comfortable with are able to explain complex medical jargon in a way that I can understand.  And hopefully, doctors will understand my need for explanation, as well as my expectations of involvement.  Again, it is a partnership that we must cultivate.

Doctor/parent relationships are impacting immunization decisions.
Now, a year after my daughter’s medical scare, I’ve been fortunate to get to know countless physicians who follow this blog and participate on our Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page.  And while they do not, and most likely will not, ever care for my children directly, it’s encouraging to know that I can rely on them as partners – immunization partners.  They care so deeply about the health and well-being of all children that they spend a great deal of their personal time engaging in social media and speaking out in favor of immunizations.  This continues to amaze me.
Admittedly, I used to wonder why so many doctors would follow this blog.  I’m certainly not telling them anything they don’t already know.  But it has recently occurred to me that my perspective – as both a mom and a vaccine advocate – may help doctors to affirm their trust and  understanding of parents.  The fact is that I respect their medical training.  I appreciate the historical advancements of immunology and medicine.  And I value the science that proves vaccines to be both safe and effective in preventing dangerous diseases.
I’m fairly certain that most doctors wish all their patients would feel as confident about vaccines as I do.  Unfortunately, I suspect that most doctors spend a great deal of time addressing questions from parents regarding immunization issues.  While that is completely understandable, if I were a doctor I’m sure that these types of conversations might eventually become exhausting, frustrating and maybe even a bit depressing.
With the popularity of the internet and social media, we are beginning to see how false information can spread like wild-fire.  But this is why it is important that doctors engage in the online conversation.  Whether they are in the examination room or the chat room, parents are still looking to them for answers and explanations.  If doctors can cultivate trust and demonstrate understanding, then they are sure to forge strong partnerships with parents that can impact children they may never even see in their office.
So today I wish to extend some February Valentine’s gratitude and thank all the doctors who support this blog, forward my tweets post information on their own blogs to help improve immunization education each day.  (Some recent examples are a post at Mommy and Daddy MDs, Peanut and Sweet Pea, that details  immunization questions and answers and Seattle Mama Docs recent post about immunization apps.)
If you’ve had an experience in which a doctor has been helpful in addressing  your immunization concerns, either in the exam  room or in an online forum, we would love to have you share your story in the comments section below.  Perhaps your personal experiences will help us all gain a better understanding of the importance of the doctor/parent relationship and how it can impact parental immunization decisions.

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2 responses to “How the Doctor/Parent Relationship Can Impact Immunization Decisions”

  1. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    You said, “I couldn’t help but wish I had become a doctor so that I wouldn’t have to rely on others for all the answers.”
    There are no lone wolves in medicine, doing it all by themselves, knowing all the answers. Doctors rely on the lab for testing, X-ray techs for images, nursing staff for care and meds administration, other doctors for consultations, journals for current information, etc.
    The good ones realize it 🙂
    The small talk, when I was an active med tech, served several purposes: It distracted the patient briefly from their current situation. It’s a pain and stress relief. It focused them on what happens next in their lives.
    And it created a non-medical connection between me and the patient, so I was seen as more than just a hand aiming a needle at their veins. (you learn real good bedside manners as a phlebotomist).

    • Christine Vara says:

      Yes, I certainly understand that no doctor is capable of “doing it all by themselves”, but that statement was really made to explain how difficult it is as a parent, to accept that you really don’t have the ability to care for your child single-handedly. And it’s difficult to accept that you must put your child’s health in the hands of so many others. That is why the doctor/parent trust is so critical.
      That is also why it’s frustrating to hear people suggest conspiracy theories when it comes to vaccine safety. How on earth could we ever get everyone to agree tto lie about something that has to do with a child’s health and safety? There are too many people that play a role in immunizations to realistically expect that something so elaborate could occur.
      I think, for the most part, your comment about the bedside manner is what is ultimately important. It’s the personal and direct communication between a doctor and a parent that may help combat vaccine hesitancy and ultimate reduce vaccine refusal. But I must say that I feel for the doctors that are facing this challenge each and every day. Yet, I also applaud those good ones that take the time to do it right!

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