Parents are often clouded with confusion when it comes to finding the right pediatrician. Following are 8 ways to help you find a family doctor you can feel both confident in and comfortable with.
1. Gather names.
Get recommendations from local parents and/or your obstetrician. Or go line to the American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] for a listing of local doctors. Once you have several, log onto your health care provider’s website to confirm these doctors are covered under your plan.
2. Check position and status.
Most pediatrician’s websites list where the doctor received his undergraduate degree, did is residency and pediatric training, and if he is board certified. Certification through the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) isn’t required in some states but it shows the doctor has obtained the ABP Maintenance of Certification standard and is following established guidelines. An FAAP (Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics) title means the doctors has passed ABP boards at least once and practices according to AAP standards. Likewise, log onto the state board of medical practice website to see if there are any complaints lodged or disciplinary action taken against any of the doctors on your list.
3. Determine your priorities.
Location and office hours are important, but so is the size of the practice. Some parents want a solo practice with one doctor and a small staff who knows their family well. A small practice will, however, have limited hours and call upon other practices to help when he is out. Other parents opt for a group practice, which offers more availability in hours. Here, a doctor is always present, though the child may not be seen by his own pediatrician during sick visits. Larger practices may also have sub-specialists with whom doctors can consult if a specific need arises. Parents may also want a pediatrician who is directly affiliated with a local children’s hospital.
4. Prepare questions.
Before contacting prospective pediatricians, create a list of questions, leaving space to jot down answers given by the staff. Better yet, make a chart or spreadsheet with columns that address specific questions and rows of recommended doctors so you can compare practices (see list of suggested questions below).
5. Consider policies and procedures.
Find out how questions are addressed during and after office hours. In some larger practices, a phone nurse takes care of over-the-counter questions to make the best use of everyone’s time. Parents can get their questions answered quickly, and it gives doctors time to do what they need to do. Also find out the practice’s policies regarding illnesses and after-hours emergencies – when pediatricians are available by phone and if they have a call-in period each day to take questions. Moreover, ask how quickly sick visits can be scheduled and the procedure if there is an after-hours emergency.
6. Schedule consults.
After you have called prospective practices, narrow your list and set up face-to-face interviews. Watch how the staff interacts with patients and people on the phone. Check out the reception area for cleanliness and safety. Look for good flow: Are families moving in and out of the office in a timely manner? When you meet the physician, find out his philosophies regarding circumcision, breastfeeding, use of medications, alternative treatments, preventive care and other health matters that are important to you. Do they line up with your views? Also note if he listens attentively to your concerns, is patient with explanations, and interacts with your child on his level.
7. Follow your instinct.
If, after research, you feel comfortable with the doctor and the staff and are confident in their ability to care for your child, chances are you’ve found the right fit.
8. Save information.
Once you have selected a pediatrician, hold onto the information you gathered about other practices. Since health care plans often change and physicians sometimes move in and out of plans, you may need to find another physician in the future.
- Questions to ask prospective pediatricians:
- What are the office hours?
- How do you handle telephone questions during and after hours? How quickly will I get a call back from the doctor or nurse during office hours? How quickly after hours?
- Can I get a same day appointment for my sick child? What are the chances I’ll get to see my doctor (versus a different doctor or nurse practitioner)?
- How do you cover after hours and weekend appointments?
- Is this a solo or group practice? If group, how many doctors are in the practice?
- Is there a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP) in your office? What is her role in the practice?
- Is the doctor certified through the ABP (American Board of Pediatrics)? Is he a member of the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics)?
- What is your stance toward circumcision, breastfeeding, immunizations and use of medications?
- What can I expect during well visits?
- Where are lab tests done?
- Do you have separate sick- and well-child waiting rooms?
- What is the typical wait time for visits?
- What are the fees for services? Do they have to be paid in full at the time of the visit or can payment be arranged?
- If we need a specialist for additional care, what is your policy on referrals?
- Which hospitals are you affiliated with?
- Will the doctor come to the hospital to examine my baby after delivery?
-Denise Yearian is the former editor of two parenting magazines and the mother of three children and six grandchildren.