Making decisions for our children’s health is always tough for a parent. Our decision on immunizations was one of the toughest, made even harder when our health care provider simply gave up on us.
Before our daughter was born, my wife collected, reviewed and shared with me mounds of information on immunizations. When she first presented this information to me, my first reaction was that those who reject immunizations were all “nut-jobs.” But after I read, and even asked doctors for their opinions, I gained some knowledge, which then led to more questions.
Because we carefully considered the choice of immunization, we were also selective in finding a pediatrician who respected our desire to learn about them. We considered several different pediatric practices and when we finally found one, our first question for the doctor was how she felt about assisting us in making decisions about immunizations. Although she was a strong advocate for them, she understood our concern and acknowledged it was our decision.
We didn’t reject immunizations. We actually set up our own schedule. We carefully timed out the shots and rejected certain shots when we thought the risks outweighed the benefits.
Letter of discharge
By this past summer, we had given every CDC recommended shot to our daughter, 8, except Chicken Pox and Hepatitis B, and most of the shots to our son, 4, when a letter from the corporate offices of our pediatrician came in the mail.
The letter informed us that we needed to get our children on the CDC immunization schedule within the next year or we would be discharged from the practice. The letter with our child’s name hand written at the top seemed impersonal and was not representative of what we had come to expect from this practice.
My wife and I decided to make an appointment for our son. We agreed that he needed to obtain another polio shot and an MMR shot. In our discussions, we again questioned the Hepatitis B shot but agreed that we would discuss it with the doctor.
On the day of the appointment, my wife accompanied our son, while carrying along her resource material on immunizations, prepared to discuss the Hepatitis B shot with the doctor. I had to be at work, and therefore was unable to go, but followed along as my wife texted me with what transpired.
In the exam room, my wife asked the doctor about the letter and was told that we needed to get all CDC recommended shots within the next year. She told the doctor that we wanted to have the polio shot on this visit, would like to schedule the MMR, but would like to further discuss and consider the Hepatitis B immunization.
Voice of corporate solidarity
This is where the doctor changed from the understanding physician we had come to appreciate to a voice of corporate solidarity. She asked my wife if we were going to schedule the Hepatitis B for our son and daughter. My wife responded that she did not want to at this point but was willing to discuss it. The doctor told her that if she did not schedule the Hepatitis B, that her office would no longer provide us thier services. At that point, the doctor got up and walked out of the room.
My wife sat in the room befuddled. She texted me, “They dropped us.” Sitting in my office I was confused and a little angry. “What? Why?” She texted a short explanation, “We wouldn’t agree to Hep B so they dropped us.”
She waited for 10 minutes in the exam room for a nurse to come in to provide a polio shot. My son was nervously awaiting this harbinger of pain. But the nurse did not show up. Finally, my wife exited the examining room and asked for a nurse.
“Will someone be coming in to give my son his polio shot?” she asked.
“No,” came the blunt response.
“But we were expecting his polio shot today. Can I speak to the doctor?”
“She left for lunch. You did not commit to the immunization schedule so we are no longer providing service to you.”
“So my son is not getting a shot?” My wife was getting angry and my son, realizing this meant no shot, was breaking into a smile.
I don’t think they expected what came next. I don’t know if my wife even expected it. I couldn’t believe it as she texted it to me, “They are refusing to give Noah his polio shot. I want my copay back.”
The request took them by surprise and it was referred to the office manager. This person came to speak to my wife and informed her that she had met with the doctor and therefore would have to pay the copay. But my wife did not back down.
“I came here for a polio shot and you refused to give it.”
It was lunchtime and they had a mother who was not giving up. The copay was returned and the relationship ended in a manner we had certainly never wanted or expected.
I still cannot believe this. We asked questions, did research and we tried to do the right thing for our child but were dismissed by our pediatrician. I wanted to ask if they were dismissing parents who use illegal drugs, who feed their kids junk food regularly, or who smoke in the car with their child. Were any of these parents who expose their children to real threats being dismissed from the practice? Isn’t the purpose of a doctor to help? How in the world does dismissing us from the practice help our children? Aren’t they giving up on those they have committed to serve?
In the end we have moved on to another pediatrician. But we aren’t alone. Nationwide about 25 percent of pediatricians have taken the route of dismissing patients that do not follow the CDC immunization schedule.
Parenting is hard, decisions like this make it harder.