Your relationship with your child’s pediatrician is one of the longest associations you’ll have in your lifetime. For one child, it’s a connection that’s likely to last 18 to 21 years. If you have more than one child, you’ll be bonded to a pediatrician even longer. Like any long-term relationship, you can reduce the frustration and heartache of having to start over if you do your best to make the right choice from the start.
Choosing the best person to oversee your child’s long-term health needs can seem daunting. The best place to start your search is with recommendations from family and friends. If you’re new to the area with few connections, reach out to coworkers or neighbors. Ask for references based on their specific experiences, level of trust, willingness to recommend, and likelihood to remain with the practice. Request first-hand information about wait times, staff attitudes and ease of scheduling sick visits. Find out how well their pediatricians listen to their concerns, answer questions, and communicate directly with them when they call.
Start your search by calling the offices on your list of potential doctors to confirm whether they accept your insurance, and find out if your preferred pediatrician, or anyone else in their practice, is accepting new patients. Don’t rely on your insurance company to provide this information as their databases may not be current at the moment you call. If you’re planning for a newborn, make sure the practice won’t be changing policies before your due date and ask which hospitals the practice uses to ensure there’s one that accepts your insurance. Once you start sorting pediatricians by location, new patient availability and insurance provider, you will have a manageable list of candidates.
When you’re ready to move toward a decision, ask to set up an in-person interview with the pediatrician of your choice. Be clear on what you can expect from this visit: with whom you’ll be meeting, the length of the interview, and whether you’ll be charged a fee. Take note of your phone wait time, and the politeness of the receptionist and her willingness to work with you. If you choose this office, you’re likely to be calling often, so consider how you’re treated.
Arrive early for the meeting so that you can spend some time observing how the office works. Watch how patients are treated. Take notice of efforts to maintain cleanliness and see if they separate sick and well children. If you’re attending the meeting with your partner, take time to make sure you’re in agreement on the points you want to cover. It’s likely that you may be limited to 15 or 20 minutes, so use your time wisely. If the pediatrician gives you an introduction about the practice, try not to interrupt with questions since he may discuss some things that you didn’t think to consider.
Ask about specific parenting topics you feel could make or break your choice to use the practice. While the pediatrician doesn’t have to agree with you on all points, look for a willingness to work with you on what you think is best for your child. Ask about policies that may conflict with your own parenting plans, such as:
- Breastfeeding vs. bottle
- Ear piercing
- Fluoride supplements
- Sleep training
- Toddler breastfeeding
- Toilet teaching
- Vegetarian/vegan diets
The pediatrician’s answers to some of your questions may be deal breakers. For example, while she may advise the recommended vaccine schedule, she may be willing to work with you on a modified timetable – or honor your decision to refuse them altogether. Other pediatricians may require that all patients abide by recommended schedules to remain in the practice.
Remember that if you’re interviewing a pediatrician at a group practice, you’re also theoretically interviewing the entire staff. Confirm that there’s a uniform approach in the practice. While it’s preferable to meet with the same pediatrician at every visit, that’s not always possible. Your children won’t schedule their illnesses around your pediatrician’s time off, so you will likely have to deal with her associates at some point. Even if your frantic middle-of-the night phone call is returned by a pediatrician you’ve never met, you should receive advice based on a consistent patient philosophy.
Don’t panic if your search doesn’t work out as you planned or your preferred pediatrician isn’t accepting new patients. Busy practices add new associates regularly. While you may not be able to establish care with your preferred pediatrician, you may be able to join the practice as a patient of another pediatrician, a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant until space opens up. Contact local hospitals, which maintain staff physician directories, and ask if there are any pediatricians that you might have missed. Lastly, consider interviewing family medicine or internal medicine physicians, both of whom are qualified to provide pediatric healthcare for newborns, children and adolescents.
Ultimately, the right pediatrician is the provider with whom you can build a trusting relationship as you work together to meet your child’s healthcare needs. Keep looking until you find the right one.