The thermometer is an important money-saving tool in a new program at the Pediatric and Family Medical Center.
Doctors and staff at the medical clinic for low-income patients at 1530 Olive St. have been distributing free thermometers and pain relief medicine to parents and teaching them how to take their children's temperatures.
Sponsored in part by Rebuild L.A., the thermometer program was launched in March because doctors at the center estimated that of the 75 or so babies they see daily, four or five do not need to visit the clinic.
Many parents bring their children in unnecessarily because they suspect a fever but don't know how to properly take temperatures, according to center officials. Dr. Tom Holubeck, the supervising staff pediatrician, said most parents judge a fever by touch.
Diagnosis and treatment have also been hampered by parents who do not have accurate temperature information, officials said.
"Our main goal when we started this program was to provide more effective, preventive health care," Holubeck said.
Becton Dickinson Consumer Products and PyMah Corp. donated 4,000 thermometers and McNeil Consumer Products Co. donated a supply of Tylenol to be distributed to parents of children 2 and younger.
The medical staff also gives oral and written instructions in Spanish and English to parents on how to properly take a baby's temperature and when the baby needs to be taken to a doctor.
The clinic, which sees about 22,000 children annually, has given out about 400 thermometers since the program began. Staff members said the number of visits has dropped slightly in recent weeks.
"Subjectively, it seems as though we've really affected how patients use the clinic," Holubeck said.