Have a sick child? Here’s when to call the doctor

Telemedicine companies now offer online access to physicians through a video visit, and some insurance companies reimburse for it.

a man walking with a small girl, holding her hand

Calling a doctor or doctor’s office with a medical question is something people take for granted, at least here in the U.S.

It’s a privilege that some treat as a right.

This may be driven by the medical insurance industry. In order to be on an insurance company’s provider panel, doctors must be available or have a substitute available 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

But when is it medically appropriate to call a doctor’s office? Certainly to schedule a routine appointment. What if you just want to ask a question?

With smart phones and computers, physicians are accessible to their patients almost anywhere.

If a problem is serious enough that you  need a physician opinion, then both you and your doctor deserve a face to face encounter.

It isn’t fair to you or your doctor, or good medical practice, to expect the doctor to make a medical decision based solely on the information gathered in a phone call or email.

Now there is a third option-virtual medicine. Telemedicine companies now offer online access to physicians through a video visit, and some insurance companies reimburse for it.

When to  call your doctor?

For strictly procedural questions, a phone call or email may suffice; these can be answered by a nurse or a non-clinical staff per physician instruction. These questions might include

  • Clarification on medication instructions
  • Reporting normal test results
  • Scheduling follow up office visits or diagnostic procedures
  • Billing, insurance and payment issues
You might call your doctor for test results- or access them on line in a patient portal.
You might call your doctor for test results- or access the reports on -line in a patient portal.

When to see your doctor?

If you call your doctor with a medical question, expect to schedule an appointment.

MD Mama blogger, Dr. Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician and medical communications editor at Boston Children’s Hospital gives this advice about symptoms in children that should prompt a call to the doctor, and usually a visit to the doctor.


Although the article is directed to parents, the advice applies to adult illness as well. Symptoms for which evaluation should not be delayed if severe, persistent or worsening include

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting, passing out
  • Hives, swelling, rash (due to an allergic reaction) 
  • Lethargy or unexplained sleepiness
  • Severe pain
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea if persistent or profuse 
  • Burns
  • Bleeding, uncontrolled 
  • Fever

And what is a true emergency? I cover that at this link.

Reliable keys to identify a medical emergency

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exploring the HEART of children’s health

Dr Aletha

Author: Aletha Cress Oglesby, M.D.

As a family physician, I explore the HEART of HEALTH in my work, recreation, community, and through writing. My blog, Watercress Words, informs and inspires us to live in health. I believe we can turn our health challenges into healthy opportunities. When we do, we can share the HEART of health with our families, communities, and the world. Come explore and share with me.

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