The most protective patient population a new PT will ever have to deal with has to be parents of pediatric patients...hands down. When you talk to parents about their kids, there will inevitably be a moment where you feel awkward and as if you're overstepping your boundaries.
This can feel even more awkward when you don't have kids of your own.
Many new PTs do not have children of their own, so the challenge of communicating with parents of pediatric patients can often be intimidating and daunting. The words we choose and the manner in which we should approach certain topics are a little bit different than speaking with our adult patients directly.
Here are a few tips on how to talk to parents - and gain their trust and respect - when you don't have kids of your own.
We all know that it is a huge no-no to discuss a patient’s medical information with a family member, but the rules make an exception when it comes to minors.
Until a child reaches the age of 18, their parent or legal guardian are entitled to information regarding the medical treatment of the child.
How can you know who has the right to access the child’s medical information?
When paperwork is filled out in the clinic, it should ask who the parent/legal guardian is, and who can be given information regarding the child. If you receive a call to the clinic from a parent whom you have not met before regarding a minor patient, check the patient information sheet before giving out any medical information.
Be prepared to give explanations
Parents generally will seek more details regarding the care of their children. You will need to be prepared to explain treatments, why you are doing them, the potential risks (if any), and the plan of care in more detail than when treating adults.
When you explain why certain treatments are done and the purpose of certain exercises, a parent is more likely to ensure that there is carryover in the home.
Explaining to a parent that range of motion exercise is important to help prevent contractures, which can be uncomfortable for their child, will produce a higher rate of compliance than just stating that they need to do range of motion a couple of times a day.
It is also an excellent idea to have other resources available to suggest to the parent to provide additional information. Providing reputable resources to parents can both allow the parent the opportunity to research further and keep the information valid.
Not only is information valuable but a community support is also a very beneficial tool. Particularly if a child faces a long term diagnosis, connecting the parent with a support group can aide in creating the best team for the care of your patient.
Never be dismissive when talking to parents
One of the most common negative reviews left for pediatric providers is that the provider was dismissive or did not listen.
As providers, we see a wide range of severity of condition. To a parent, any injury or condition for their child is going to be a cause for stress and worry. Try to assure the parents without being dismissive.
For example, if a parent seems to be perseverating on a new bruise on her daughter’s hip, even if you know there is no reason to be concerned, address her concerns by giving the reason that you feel it is nothing to worry about.
Always follow-up with a “we will keep an eye on that bruise, and will make sure to let you know if it becomes something of concern."
Work with the whole team
Often, when a child is receiving your services, they are working several providers, teachers, and caregivers. You need to assure you are a team player.
The plan of care needs to consider all aspects of the child’s life and work well with the other players in the child’s care. The child’s parent, classroom teacher, physician, school PT, OT, and developmental interventionist will all have goals for the child, and the best outcomes will be when you can work with these other disciplines to achieve these goals.
If possible, coordinate with the school PT if the child is receiving those services that way you can complement each other with the plan of care. Discuss with OT what skills they are developing so you can incorporate them in to your activities.
When multiple providers are involved, the risk is there that a parent may receive what they believe is conflicting information. We all know that different therapists see and do things a little differently occasionally. If the information varies at all, a parent can begin to have doubt in a provider.
By working together, the parent can have confidence that all providers are working towards the best interest of the child.
Be positive when you talk to parents about their kids
As a pediatric physical therapist, there will be times when you encounter children with multiple and severe impairments. While you should most certainly be honest and realistic with a patient and the parents, you should be a source of positivity.
Unfortunately, bad news and sad diagnosis can be a part of pediatric therapy. If possible, try to keep your own emotions in check when discussing with the parent and especially in front of the child. You obviously care deeply about your patient, but the PT must remain strong and positive.
Let the parent vent, cry, talk about their concerns and their feelings. When you speak about the child, focus on what the can and will be able to do and do not dwell on the things that they won’t be able to do.
Stay optimistic but realistic about the child’s ability and goals. If all a parent talks about is their child walking and that is not an obtainable goal, don’t tell the parent that the child will be able to get there. Focus on what the child will be able to do, and how you can make them more independent. If you are wrong and the child does walk someday, what a great thing to be wrong about?!
Interacting with parents when you have little experience with children of your own can be difficult.
However, if you can keep a positive outlook, have patience to answer questions and explain, integrate your care with the team of providers, and most importantly—LISTEN to the parents, you will gain the trust of the parents which will make for better outcomes.