By "trusting" your pediatrician, you likely hope for a cost-effective yet effective, innocuous yet proven, thorough yet uncomplicated treatment each time your child becomes ill.
When presented with a sick child, there is a careful and structured thought process that I go through to come up with the best treatment plan. But before concocting a solution, I must first ascertain what the correct diagnosis is. I would estimate that 60% of the diagnoses I make each day are bread and butter pediatrics, simple enough such that an astute pediatric resident at the end of their 1st year of training could come up with the correct answer without assistance.
Another 30% of my patients may not present as cut and dry, but I can easily group them into an unofficial diagnostic category such as "viral illness with a funky rash which should resolve without any complication".
It is the final 10% where my experience, fund of knowledge and creativity come into play. And truth be told, the majority of this 10% will go on to good health, regardless of any intervention or medication. It is in this last 10% where follow-up visits are my most powerful and cost-effective ally.
Imagine you are a contestant on an updated version of the 5o's game show Name that Tune. If you are an iPod junkie, you may be able to correctly name 80% of songs with just a few bars of music. Certain songs are so distinct, that it wouldn't take even an average music fan but a few notes to decipher what they are listening to. Ala You Give Love a Bad Name, Hit Me with Your Best Shot, Play That Funky Music, White Boy, etc.
But other songs may take a few more lines. For example, the notorious Ice Ice Baby could easily be mixed up with Queen's classic song Under Pressure (not that Vanilla plagiarized. C'mon - he was keeping it real!). You get my point. Some diagnoses only take a few notes, others may require a follow-up visit or two.
At the end of a visit in which the diagnosis is not clear, a pediatrician can:
A. Order a battery of tests to shed some light on the matter.
B. Try medication(s)/treatment(s) and hope something works.
C. Consult a specialist.
D. Send the child to the ER.
E. Have the child return for a follow-up visit.
Each of these choices is appropriate in certain situations. However, each has a potential downside. Tests are often expensive and possibly harmful (radiation) or painful (blood draws). Medications can also be expensive and can lead to possible side effects. Specialists are often expensive as well and may feel compelled that the buck has to stop here, leading to unnecessary treatments/tests. The ER is insanely expensive, and you may have a less qualified doctor than your pediatrician helming the ship. Finally, a follow-up visit may be the most cost-effective measure; however, the child may become sicker or there may be no additional clues which present themselves at the follow-up visit.
The pediatrician must carefully choose which of these options is the most appropriate in each situation. If I think I have a bead on a possible diagnosis, I will sometimes order a test to see if I am correct. If I have a strong hunch on a possible diagnosis, I may even empirically treat. If I am perplexed, I may elicit the help of a specialist. If I am worried that a child is decompensating, I may send them to the ER. However, the most likely scenario is that I just need to see the history of the disease play itself out. And thus, it is the almighty follow-up visit which aids me the greatest in murky situations.
Once a child is deemed stable, a follow-up visit is usually the cheapest, most pain-free, side-effect free and hassle-free plan of action that can be taken for the family. Given that most kids are resilient, many will improve by the time they follow-up with me. Or in the event that they remain ill, a few more symptoms will surface to help make the proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Simply by waiting a few hours or days, I can avoid the egregious error of crediting Vanilla Ice with a true Queen classic. And all this whilst I am under pressure.