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Another summer has passed, and with its passing the rites of autumn have begun. Verklempt parents, myself included, have put their children on school buses for the first time. Pumpkin spice flavoring is regaining its inexplicable seasonal dominance in places it doesn’t belong (i.e. anywhere other than a pie). It’s getting harder and harder to defy the weather and leave the house without a jacket in the mornings.

As a pediatrician, I see my own special signs that the school year is truly underway—the stupid appointments have started.

Please don’t get me wrong. While parents often bring their kids in for visits that aren’t technically necessary, I understand perfectly well why they do so. Even if the illnesses are mild and likely to resolve without any intervention on my part, I consider reassuring mothers and fathers that their kids are going to be OK an important part of my job. I don’t think those appointments stupid in the least.

No, the stupid appointments are the ones where nobody in the room thinks they should have to be there—not me, not the patient, not the parent. In fact, during visits like these, the parents are often downright apologetic about it. They’d have skipped it if they could have.

So why are they there when they’d really rather not be? Because their kids have had one of those mild, self-limiting illnesses and missed a day or two of school, and the parents need a note to get the absence excused. Their say-so isn’t enough for the school to consider the absence appropriate, and only a certain number of these “unexcused” absences are tolerated before truancy penalties set in.

Thus, everyone has to waste their time for a totally pointless doctor’s visit. In fact, the person whose time is wasted least is me. As I hasten to reassure these exasperated moms and dads, I had to be in the office anyway. They’re the ones who had to take time off work to schlep their kids in when they’re clearly back to feeling dandy, just so I can hand them a piece of paper validating their entirely prudent decision to keep their children home when they were sick.

Not only are these appointments a waste of time, they’re also a waste of money. There’s the lost productivity of parents who have to leave work. Plus, there’s the cost of the office visit. No matter how sympathetic I am to the plight of parents complying with a benighted attendance policy, I can’t just give my time away, nor can I simply write blanket excuse notes sight unseen. Some parents have transportation problems that entail further costs.

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