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How to Choose a Pediatrician

Choosing a pediatrician, especially as a first-time parent, can be a daunting task. Because this doctor is the person you’ll be entrusting your child’s health to, merely throwing a dart at a phone book and going with the result is not the way to choose. You will have a long relationship with your child’s pediatrician, and you want it to be one of warmth, openness, and trust. Below are some strategies for finding the perfect pediatrician for you and your little ones.

Timing

The best time to seek out a pediatrician is during pregnancy or the adoption process, when there’s no rush, no pressure, and everything can fall into place before the arrival of your new baby. As we all know, sometimes things don’t happen the way we’d like, or sometimes a beloved physician retires or a switch to a different insurance plan leaves us seeking a new pediatrician late in the game. Regardless, it pays to take a little time and effort to find a pediatrician perfect for you and your child.

Seek References

Look to your friends, neighbors, and relatives. Who do they entrust with their children’s health? Ask questions, elicit anecdotes, find out what they like (and dislike) about their pediatrician and why. While you’re asking about, ask your OB/GYN—his or her profession invites contact with local pediatricians, and there may be special insight or knowledge to be gained.

Do “the Google”

There are numerous sites online that offer listings of “board certified” pediatricians. What does “board certified” mean? It means that a physician has not only finished medical school, he or she has also completed a residency in pediatric medicine and passed an examination administered by the American Board of Pediatrics. In addition, board certified pediatricians must re-certify periodically, meaning that their knowledge is being updated and kept current.

In addition to seeking board certified candidates, it may also be wise to seek out online groups and review sites dedicated to the discussion of children’s health and local physicians and medical facilities. While one or two bad reviews likely mean little (not everyone is going to click), a clear pattern of negative feedback may be worth paying attention to.

Lastly, it never hurts to seek information on censures, suits, and actions against a doctor. Such things are not common, but it’s information you should have when making such an important decision.

Narrow it Down

Now that you’ve generated a list of possibilities, it’s time to face grim reality: most health plans in the United States offer lists of “approved providers.” Get yours (if you don’t have the paper copy, the list is almost certainly available online), and figure out which of the recommended physicians also appear on your “approved provider” list. If the answer is “none”, you’re going to have to start from scratch and make your way down the list provided by your insurer.

The Interview Process

That’s right—just like hiring a clerk or a nanny, a pediatrician is someone to be interviewed, their attributes weighed, and chosen only if they seem the best fit for your family. Most physicians will offer a free consultation, a “get acquainted” appointment. Even if they don’t, it’s worth the time and money (and will likely be paid for by your insurance company). If a pediatrician refuses a “getting-to-know-you” sit-down? You’ll have to decide what that means to you.

When making the appointment, have a list of questions you’ll want answered upon arriving. Important to many parents? Breastfeeding rates of patients – doctors whose patients are rarely breastfed are doctors who unwittingly send the message that they may not consider breastfeeding particularly important. Also often considered is the circumcision rate amongst a doctor’s patients – doctors with high or low rates are likely of one bent or the other on the issue. Be sure to take this into consideration if the issue is important to you.

Once at the doctor’s office, take a good look around. Are the walls plastered with formula posters and weight charts produced by formula manufacturers? Again, this is a message. If you value breastfeeding, this pediatrician may not be a good fit for you.

When asking questions, don’t be afraid to press for answers; this is your child’s potential pediatrician, and you should know where he or she stands. Present hypothetical situations, describe your positions on matters such as immunization, breastfeeding, circumcision, sleep issues, use of various medications, and anything else you feel is important. You’re not looking to argue or convince, but rather to find a fit.

The Office

In addition to “just” a pediatrician, many offices also boast PACs (Certified Physician Assistants), Nursing Practitioners (nurses who have completed graduate or post-graduate training), and nurses, enabling the office to see to more patients for more hours. Many pediatric practices also link with other offices to provide extended hours or overflow care. Better pediatric offices often offer an on-staff IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant), and some even offer day care for sick children, enabling parents to go to work while their child is kept safe in an environment conducive to proper care.

Services aside, other office matters to consider are cleanliness of the office, demeanor of the staff, available toys and games, play areas, and sick versus well waiting areas meant to keep sick children and well children separate.

The Choice

Once you’ve made your decision, always know that you don’t have to stick with it! That’s right—you may find, after a few appointments (or a few years), that your new pediatrician isn’t the right one for you after all. There’s no need for hard feelings or guilt—sometimes things just don’t work out. You know the process now, so there’s nothing to stop you from going out there and finding a new pediatrician!

Remember, finding the right pediatrician for your family shouldn’t be undertaken with a “name out of a hat” approach. Instead, the search should be undertaken with careful consideration and avid involvement. After all, this is the doctor who will, quite literally, have your child’s health in his or her hands. Make sure they’re hands you trust!