Your child’s doctor plays such an important role, yet choosing the right pediatrician is not always so easy. Whether you are a first-time parent (you should begin searching in the final months of pregnancy), or moving into a new town with your children, you have a task. Despite some homework and legwork, finding the right fit will be worth the effort. The bond between family and pediatrician is unique and rewarding, oftentimes lasting a lifetime.
Credentials: Isn’t an MD enough?
Not exactly … Although many physicians can and do provide care to children, it is recommended that your baby’s doctor be specifically trained and “certified” in pediatrics—that is, the specialty of medical science concerned with the physical, emotional, and social health of children from birth to young adulthood. In the U.S., such physicians are “board certified” in the field of pediatrics; the letters “FAAP” after the pediatrician’s name indicates that the doctor has passed the American Board of Pediatrics Exam and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Besides general pediatricians, Family Practitioners and Med-Ped Physicians also have specific training in pediatrics, and likewise may be certified.
Types of Pediatric Practices.
- Solo practitioners: Although this is generally a practice model of the past, there are still some baby docs who do it alone. You will be visiting with him/her exclusively—although likely there may be “covering” physicians if your doc is on vacation, attending continuing medical education courses, etc.
- Group practices: Generally the more common arrangement these days, a “group” of several pediatricians work in the same office, sharing night and weekend coverage. The members generally (but not always) have common practice philosophies.
- Hospital-based practices: These practices are essentially “large group” services. One important difference, specifically related to teaching hospitals, is that resident doctors generally serve as primary care physicians, and after a few years (upon graduation), new doctors are assigned.
Finding a Pediatrician.
- If you are moving, ask your pediatrician for referrals in your new neighborhood. Pediatricians tend to have vast networks and perhaps a call or two will be all that’s needed.
- Ask trusted friends and associates; if you attend a Lamaze class (recommended!), ask your instructor.
- Go to the grocery store, playground, or a house of worship. Don’t be shy; when you see a mom with kids in tow, ask who her pediatrician is. It is likely that in no time the same name(s) will keep popping up.
- Check with the local hospital(s).
- Call up the local board of health and/or medical society.
- Don’t settle on one name … plan to meet a few pediatricians.
Remember, there are no stupid questions! As a new parent, you should be able to, and feel comfortable enough, to ask anything, no matter how trivial it may seem. You interview a prospective babysitter; certainly you have a few questions to ask your baby’s future doctor! Both parents should be present at the interview. Most pediatricians do not (if they do, move on) consider this an imposition, rather they should welcome this meeting, and there should be no fee for this service. Not only will there be specific issues addressed (see below), but you will get a sense of a pediatrician’s personality, accessibility, and philosophies of practice. All this translates into your comfort level … which must feel right! For example, a question involving if and how the office accommodates breast-feeding may be useful. In preparing for the meeting, visit the web. With most managed care companies, the doctors in your plan generally have their bios posted. Often you can determine the following:
- The gender and age of the pediatrician. As kids get older, they may prefer doctors who are their same sex. Age can address issues surrounding experience and the possibility of retiring before your child “graduates” from his pediatrician.
- Where the physician attended medical school.
- Whether he/she is board certified.
- Which hospital(s) the doctor has admitting privileges to.
- Whether the physician has any special areas of interest or specialization (e.g. adolescent medicine, or special needs.)
Questions to Ask. (Don’t rely on your memory; bring a list with room to jot down answers.)
- What are the office hours? What about evenings and weekends?
- Is there as separate waiting area for “sick” and “well” kids?
- What is the arrangement for off-hour emergency coverage? Who answers the phone? If a service, is it linked to a university or children’s hospital?
- Is the pediatrician available by phone (specific times?) and/or email?
- If your child has special medical needs, is the practice prepared to adequately provide services?
- Is there access to pediatric specialists, if needed?
- Which hospital(s) does the pediatrician prefer to use?
- How is billing handled? Is payment due at the time of each visit?
- Are you welcome to visit the office (unannounced) while making up your mind? (As I will discuss in a future column regarding “choosing child care,” visit the office a number of times … is the waiting room clean? Is there an orderly and smooth flow? Is the office staff friendly and caring?
- Overall, do you feel comfortable with the doctor; does she truly listen to your concerns?
Remember, your family and your pediatrician are entering into a special relationship. As with all important partnerships, cultivation and monitoring are essential. You should expect this connection to grow in comfort and confidence.
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