May 2, 2014 — It can be a challenging conversation for pediatricians when a parent comes into the office and has doubts about childhood immunizations. How should a doctor approach the topic with a parent? Dr. Edward Clark, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Utah asks Seth Mnookin, author of the book “Panic Virus,” what a physician should keep in mind while having the conversation with a concerned parent.

Interview

Dr. Ed Clark: Immunizations today are a hot button issue. How do you, as a healthcare provider approach these topics with the parents and patients in your practice?

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Dr. Ed Clark: Hello, this is Dr. Ed Clark, and I have with me today Professor Seth Mnookin from MIT, the author of the book "The Panic Virus." In your studies of families and the issues surrounding immunizations, what advice do you have for clinicians who are faced with a family that is reluctant to have their child fully immunized?

Professor Seth Mnookin: I think that the first thing that's really important for clinicians to remember is that when a parent or a family comes to them with concerns or anxieties, they are not fundamentally saying that they do not trust the physician and I think that is something that physicians hear a lot when they have a family that says, "I'm not sure that I'm comfortable doing what you're recommending I'm doing." Instead of getting defensive I think oftentimes a much more effective way to handle that conversation is to say, "I understand your concerns and I know this is a subject that has come up a lot and so it makes sense that you are concerned. I think this is something that you should not be worried about."
One thing that I always recommend to physicians or nurse practitioners is if they're comfortable talking about their own experiences, that is oftentimes the best thing they can do, if they can say, "One thing I can tell you is that in my own life I made the decision to fully immunize all my children."
And then what I think is really tricky, is that oftentimes in a wellness appointment there is not the time to address whatever the concerns are adequately, so the real challenge is both acknowledging those concerns and then without being able to fully get into them, not have the parent walk away feeling like they weren't listened to. And I think oftentimes really just the acknowledgement is enough to do that as opposed to saying, "Oh those are stupid concerns" or "It's only uneducated people who think that." And you'd be surprised at how many parents have told me that was the message they got. So, trying to be empathetic and compassionate while also obviously standing up for what you know is medically appropriate and the medically correct thing to do.

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