Children's Hospital Colorado

Parent Toolkit: Navigating the Medical System

A boy sits on his mom's lap while talking to a doctor in the lobby.

When your child is sick or has a chronic illness, it can be stressful to deal with the medical system, particularly if it is unfamiliar to you. This page offers information about the healthcare professionals that you might meet. It also provides recommendations about how to effectively communicate with your child’s medical team to make the most of your child’s experience at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

What’s the best way to communicate with my child’s team?

Be your child’s expert: While the medical team members are experts in their areas, you are the expert on your child. Sharing information about your child can help your team better care for them, including their worries about being in the hospital and coming to clinic, and even details about their favorite TV shows, which will help staff connect with your child.

Ask questions: All the information you receive about your child’s illness and treatments can feel overwhelming. Ask questions to gain an understanding of how to best care for your child. Nurses can be great resources and can talk with the larger medical team if they are unable to answer specific questions.

Bring your healthcare records: Particularly if your child has multiple providers, consider making a notebook to include medical records, your notes from appointments, and other relevant information. Sign up for MyChart for a direct way to access updates and directly communicate with your doctor if they are not available in the moment.

Understand the roles of the team members: Becoming familiar with the different roles of providers in the hospital or clinic can help you know who to talk to about a particular question or concern. Check out the descriptions of various clinicians below for additional information.

Be aware of changes in clinical team members: Some of the clinicians that you meet on the medical floor will be on a rotating schedule, so you may not always see the same people every day, particularly if your child is in the hospital for more than a few days. However, outpatient providers may be able to work with you and your child for a longer period of time. It is helpful to find out when your doctors, nurses, and other team members may be switching, so that you can know when to expect a new team member.

Communicate in a respectful manner: There may be times when you have a difference in opinion with a member of the medical team. It’s helpful to remain calm and discuss your concerns openly with the provider, so that they can understand your perspective and work with you to find a compromise. If you are finding it difficult to work with a member of your child’s team, a patient representative from the hospital may be able to help you communicate your concerns.

A girl in a green t-shirt plays with a stethoscope.

Use assertive communication skills: Assertive communication is a way of saying how you feel and making requests that respects both you and the other person. It is an “I count, you count” way of communicating. For example: “I feel stressed when I don’t get all the information I want about my child’s treatments. Can we work out a plan so that I know who to contact to get the information I need?” This is opposed to aggressive communication or passive communication. When someone uses aggressive communication, they clearly state their feelings, opinions and needs, but don’t consider the other person. It is an “I count, you don’t” way of communicating. For example: “The medical team never lets me know what is going on with my child. I will just have to find other providers to care for my child, since your team isn’t interested in our family.”

On the other hand, when someone is using passive communication, they hold back or only express part of their feelings, thoughts, and needs. It is a “You count, I don’t” way of communicating. For example: You don’t say a word about how you would like the medical team to keep you updated about your child’s care. You feel very angry inside, and upset that you are not getting the information you need. This can lead to resentment and aggressive communication.

Who will my child or I meet at the hospital?

Depending on the reasons your child is being seen in a clinic or the hospital, you may meet a variety of different healthcare professionals:

  • Physician (MD or DO): A doctor examines patients, takes medical histories, and prescribes medications, and orders, performs and interprets diagnostic tests.
  • Nurse (RN): A nurse provides and coordinates patient care, offers guidance and emotional support to patients and families, and educates about health conditions.
  • Nurse practitioner (NP): An advanced-practice nurse has the additional education and training needed to diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications.
  • Occupational therapist (OT): This specialized clinician works to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life (such as eating, writing, and taking care of themselves).
  • Physical therapist (PT): This specialized clinician uses specially designed exercises and equipment to help patients regain or improve their physical abilities.
  • Dietitian (RD): A dietitian is an expert on diet and nutrition.
  • Child life specialist (CCLS): This clinician works with children and families in hospitals to help them cope with the challenges of hospitalization, illness, and disability.
  • Social worker (LCSW): A licensed clinical social worker provides support to families (particularly parents) and has knowledge of hospital and community resources.
  • Psychologist (PhD or PsyD): This doctoral-level mental health professional assists children and their families with concerns about mood, behavior, and adjustment to hospitalization or medical diagnoses. A psychologist can also help with adherence to medical treatment.
  • Psychiatrist (MD or DO): A psychiatrist is a physician specializing in mental health who can prescribe medication to treat psychiatric symptoms (such significant depression or anxiety).

Family Resource Assistance

Our Family Resource Liaisons are master’s level clinicians who are available to help individuals and families navigate the mental healthcare system by providing contact information for mental health resources in your community.

Family Resource Liaisons are available by phone at 720-777-4978, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Check out our Parent Toolkit to get more resources for maximizing your child’s health.

Answers in your inbox

Expert advice delivered directly to you. Get weekly tips