Parents, this one’s for you.
Prudie has a letter in today’s column:
Fifteen years ago, I was new in town and looking for a children’s dentist, and chose the one named “Best of …” in the local paper. When I brought in my then 6-year-old son, the dentist was the only one in the office—no other patients, hygienists, or a receptionist. The dentist suggested giving my child nitrous oxide since he’d had previous dental trauma and was terrified. He also said he didn’t allow parents to accompany the kids during examination and treatment, as this caused kids to cry more. I’ll bet you can see where this is going, but I had several other small children and was relieved I could just stay with them in the waiting room, so I agreed. When they came out, my son seemed confused and unhappy, the dentist was hyper in a weird and creepy way, and he said that my child had won his weekly special gift giveaway and gave him a surprisingly expensive toy. At this point I thought he fit the profile of a child molester and decided to never come back, but I didn’t have enough evidence to do anything. I wondered, How long until I read about him in the newspaper? Well, the day just came. In my local paper was an article about his arrest for possession and distribution of child pornography. [emphasis added]
This advice is probably totally unnecessary for the overwhelming majority of parents, but just in case I feel compelled to make something plain. As a pediatrician, the number of times I have ever examined a small child without his or her parents is zero. Never. If I enter an exam room to see a preteen patient and find that the parent has ducked out to go to the restroom, I politely say “I’ll come back in a couple of minutes” and leave; I won’t even have a conversation with an unaccompanied child. Even for my teenage male patients, if they don’t express a preference one way or the other, I will always default on the side of having a parent in the room for an exam. (The majority of my adolescent male patients prefer to have their parents wait outside, but that decision is always theirs. And I never examine female patients without a female chaperon in the room with me.)
With the exception of a trauma bay or an operating room, I cannot think of a single instance when it would be appropriate to instruct parents to leave their children alone. And never when it’s only the doctor (or, in this case, dentist) in the room. Period. I want parents in the room, not only to help reassure the child but also for my own protection against any accusation of impropriety.
I have a special place in the boiling tar pits of my heart for medical providers who prey on their patients, and you can add flaming, pointed sticks for those whose patients are children. I hope the heaviest weights of the legal system fall on the dentist described in the letter. I would love to believe that my field is free of such people, but I would be a fool to do so.
Anyhow, in the off chance that it helps some parent out there — your child’s medical provider should never ask to be alone with your small child. If there is some compelling reason for you to separate from your child, there should always be at least one other adult in the room. A policy of examining children on their own is a gigantic neon warning sign. I would never agree to such a policy as a parent, and would never refer my patients to such a provider.