February 1, 2010
Qualities to Look for in Your Child’s Doctor
You are in your third trimester and, like your belly, your “to-do” list doesn’t seem to be shrinking any. And although it is perfectly acceptable to wait until your baby’s birthday to know the sex or to pick your baby’s name, it is too late to start thinking about picking a pediatrician!
Choosing the right pediatrician is perhaps the single most important thing you will do for you and your child in the first year of life and beyond. But how do you go about finding your perfect match? Here are a few tips. And brace yourself: this just might be easier than choosing your baby’s name!
The first hurdle is to find a pediatrician who is on your insurance panel and who is taking new patients. These two questions can be answered with some routine phone calls or Internet searching. And while you’re at it you might ask a few additional administrative questions:
• Is the parking convenient and free?
• How far in advance do I need to schedule my well appointments? How far in advance does the pediatrician have their schedule open?
• Are there additional fees for missed appointments, late cancellations, telephone calls or for filling out forms?
• What are the office hours? Are there weekend or evening appointments available?
• At which hospitals does the group have admitting privileges?
• Does the office make reminder calls to patients for appointments scheduled in advance?
Next, you need to make a site visit. You wouldn’t send your baby to a childcare center that you hadn’t visited, and you wouldn’t send your teenager off to a college without walking around campus first. You will be spending a lot of time at your pediatrician’s office in the next year, so pick your top three contenders and set up appointments. Some pediatricians meet with expecting families individually by appointment, and some see multiple families on a particular evening during the week. Most pediatricians do not charge for this visit.
Here is where the fun begins. You are in the driver’s seat. First impressions and gut feelings are important here. And these are a few specifics to note:
• Is the staff friendly?
• Is the office inviting? Clean? Dated? Organized? Kid friendly?
• Is the doctor running 45 minutes late for your prenatal appointment?
• Do they charge for the visit? If so, is the billing handled respectfully?
Lastly, you should have a chance to interview your doctor. This may be a brief interaction, but you can gather a lot of information with just a few questions. Depending on what you think is most important to you and your family; you can ask one or more of the following:
• How does the doctor support breastfeeding? Is there a resource within the practice to help with complicated problems?
• Where do patients get referred after office hours for emergencies? Who takes call for emergencies? Is call shared with other doctors in the area?
• Is there anyone in the practice with subspecialty pediatric training?
• How long is the typical wait in the waiting room?
• If you have to call the office with a simple question, who would typically answer it? Is there a triage nurse? Would you have to wait for a doctor to call you back?
• When does the doctor see the baby for the first time?
• Do you respond to e-mail messages?
Then I think it is helpful to save time for one last question. A hard one. One that is a bit open-ended and maybe a bit controversial. One that tells you something about the doctor’s philosophy and also tells you something about how the doctor handles a tricky question. Is the doctor thoughtful? Does the doctor take his/her time answering the question? Does the doctor seem hurried, or worse yet, irritated? You might choose from one of the following:
• Do you believe in splitting up vaccines or delaying vaccines for families who request it?
• Do you believe in using antibiotics for all ear infections?
• What if I didn’t have a good experience with another clinician in the practice, how would you handle it?
• What do you think of organic foods and formulas? Are they important?
• How do you handle patients who seek care for their children from naturopaths or chiropractors?
So you’ve done all of the above work and still can’t decide? It might be a good idea to check credentials. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Board of Pediatrics credential all pediatricians. Check out their websites to see if your pediatrician candidates are in good standing.
And don’t forget to run names by your obstetrician and your friends and neighbors. Word of mouth is not perfect, but can be helpful.