Part of parenting is being in charge of your child's medical care. Usually, it's no big deal. You take your child to the same doctor every time for routine checkups and sick visits, and that's about all you need to do.
But what if your child has to see many doctors or spend a lot of time in hospitals? What if your child needs multiple tests and procedures?
When your child has a serious injury or medical condition, things can get complicated — and costly — very quickly. You need an approach to medical care that is focused on your child in a way that will ensure the right type of care, delivered as quickly as possible by people who communicate with each other regularly — all at a price you can afford.
You need what's called a "medical home" for your child.
What Does the Term "Medical Home" Mean?
A medical home isn't a place like a hospital or doctor's office. In fact, it's not a place at all. It's more like a way of keeping everything about someone's medical self — his or her medical history, dealings with insurance companies, treatment schedule, referrals to specialists — in one place. These records can be kept at doctor's offices, clinics, or hospitals and stored in files on a computer or within an electronic medical record (EMR), or in paper folders.
When kids have a medical home, it's easier for doctors, nurses, and other health care providers to look up their medical information quickly and find what's needed. This helps everyone stay on the same page and work together to coordinate care so that are no overlaps, gaps, or mistakes.
In all cases, the medical home should be led by a primary care provider (PCP) who knows your kids best.
What This Means for a Child's Care
The goal of a medical home is to make sure kids get all the care they need and always have access to medical care, whether that means a routine checkup or a trip to the ER.
A medical home means that you'll establish a relationship with a primary care doctor who you and your child trust and who can work together with you to keep your child's care and records organized and up to date.
Your PCP should:
- share clear and unbiased information with you about your child's health and the options available to you when it comes to medical care
- help coordinate efforts between schools, childcare centers, and other agencies to ensure that any of your child's special needs are met
- keep a thorough, easily accessible, and organized record that has all your child's medical information while preserving his or her rights to privacy
- refer you to trusted specialists or surgeons, if necessary, and work with them to establish a plan for your child's health care
- organize and assist you with any transitions or changes in your child's care, including the transition to adult care
- work with you and your insurance provider to ensure that your child's care is properly covered and paid for with no gaps in coverage as your child grows
What Should I Do?
To start, make sure that your child has health insurance that allows him or her to see a doctor for regular checkups. Then, make sure your child gets to all scheduled appointments on time, and talk to your doctor about everything related to your child's health. Listen to what your doctor has to say, educate yourself on any conditions your child has, and ask the doctor about any concerns or questions that come up.
When your child needs a vaccine (like a flu shot), go to your doctor's office for it first, not a drugstore or health fair. If you do take your child elsewhere for a shot, make sure to bring any related medical information with you, and remember to tell your doctor about it so he or she can update your child's record.
If your child has symptoms of an illness or injury, always call the doctor's office and schedule an appointment. Only use emergency departments and other urgent care centers when there's a real emergency, or if your doctor's office is closed and the on-call nurse or doctor tell you to seek urgent care.
Most of all, though, find a PCP you and your child like and stick with him or her. For lots of kids, the doctor can be someone they only see once a year. But for others, their doctor can be a big part of their lives.
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: September 2014