The Importance of Being a Health Advocate for Your Children

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By Paige Wolf

Doctors are fallible. Nurses and pharmacists are not immune to error. Office staff make mistakes.

And in this fast-paced world, one place where I try to be as conscientious as possible is when it comes to my children’s health. As someone who has been misdiagnosed, offered inappropriate treatments, and literally sent home from a hospital with full-blown sepsis, I am particularly diligent when it comes to health assessments.

Here is an example of a situation where a doctor’s office could have very easily caused damage, but I was fortunate enough to catch a major error.

My 9-year-old son has worn glasses since he was 4. He is far-sighted with slight amblyopia, which has mostly been corrected through patching.

At his recent eye doctor appointment, the ophthalmologist noted that his prescription needed a tweak and they sent me home with a new Rx in hand.

Rather than seek out one of the rare glasses shops that accepts insurance and choose from a scant selection of child’s frames, I shop for cheap glasses online.

But when I logged into my account to update the prescription, I noticed major discrepancy: the new Rx was minus while the old Rx was plus. A quick Google search showed me that they had accidentally given a prescription for near-sighted glasses – a pretty massive error!

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The recent and very wrong prescription above the former prescription from last year.

If I had just handed off the prescription at a glasses shop, I never would have noticed the difference, and my child would have ended up in glasses that could have seriously impaired his vision. And what if my child was much younger or didn’t have the language to let us know something was wrong with the glasses? Or what if we didn’t believe him and thought he just didn’t feel like wearing them for aesthetic reasons? An error like this could cause serious damage.

When I called the office to express my concern, they responded by simply emailing me the corrected prescription with nary an apology. I let the office manager – or whoever it was that emailed me – know what a massive problem this could have been and asked her to please pass the message on to the staff to be more careful. But who knows if that made any significant impact in a specialist’s office with a wait time that rivals Space Mountain during holiday season.

The same week we took the kids for a dental checkup where we were shocked to learn that they have 10 cavities between them – 10! I had never had a cavity in my life, and neither had they. And I was told that this practice – the only one that took our insurance – was notorious for exaggeration. I asked them to send me the X-rays so I could get a second opinion before subjecting my kids to torturous dental work. And, in this case, the dentist was actually right – they both were going to need to face the drill.

But I’m glad we checked and will continue to be vigilant about protecting my children’s health. My scattered brain is certainly imperfect, and I could be better about monitoring teeth-brushing, but I will continue to be cautious about human error. Check the label to make sure the pharmacist gives you the right prescription, ask for a second opinion if something doesn’t seem right, and trust your gut when it comes to your kids’ health. (Unless your gut is telling you not to vaccinate in which case I urge you to trust the science).

Paige Wolf is the founder of PhillyTweens.com and the author of Spit That Out! The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt book and blog, where this post first appeared. She is also the owner of Paige Wolf Media and Public Relations, a B Corporation PR firm focused on sustainable clientele. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, two children, and American Hairless Terrier.