When you consider that your pediatrician will treat your son or daughter from infancy through adolescence and well into the teen years, it make sense that your family choose a doctor who is competent, kind, and available.
Good pediatricians perform four functions: They work at preventing illness in your child, and they treat illness when it occurs. They also need to be relied upon to spot problems early and refer on to specialists when needed. And to offer help and advice for the behavioral and emotional stages of your child's growing years. So it stands to reason that you need to find a pediatrician both you and your child are really comfortable with!
Your pediatrician should also be Board-certified — someone who has successfully completed a training residency of at least three years, and has passed the rigorous testing and standards of the American Board of Pediatrics.
Finding a pediatrician:
—Start early, when you are pregnant. Establishing the relationship early allows the doctor to keep current on any pregnancy-related issues which may occur, and to be ready to give your baby his/her first checkup while you are still in the hospital.
—Ask for leads from: your other doctors with whom you have a comfortable relationship and whose recommendations you would trust; friends and family members who are in the position to know good pediatricians — in other words, fellow parents whose recommendations you would also trust.
—If leads are slim, contact local hospitals/medical centers or the local county medical society and ask for recommendations; or search the pediatrician list of your managed care plan.
Check whether a doctor is Board-certified on the website of The American Board of Pediatrics (www.abp.org). Search under "Verification of Certification".
"FAAP" after the doctor's name designates a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). These are physicians who have obtained board certification in pediatrics and have provided (and continue to provide on an ongoing basis) "evidence of high ethical and professional principals" as evaluated by AAP members in the district where the doctor resides.
Your best friend might highly recommend her child's doctor — but keep in mind that good patient-physician relations are often based on chemistry — yours, and not your friend's. So it's vital to make the effort to meet the doctor and check out his/her office before deciding. You may or may not be charged for this consultation session; ask in advance.
—Look over the reception area to make sure it is reasonably clean.
—Check out the supplies in the waiting room. Make sure toys and books look reasonably clean.
—When you consider that you and your child will come into contact with sick kids in a waiting room (playing with the same toys and books!), a practice with separate rooms/areas for sick children and well children is a big plus.
—Ask the office staff about their hours, billing practices, after-hours care, insurance acceptance and claims handling.
—When you meet the doctor, focus on personality and attitude. Does he/she appear rushed, making you feel rushed?
—Most calls from parents concern non-urgent medical matters. Ask about telephone hours; most practices have these daily, when the doctor is available to answer non-urgent questions. Ask if email is a better way to communicate and how fast the doctor is able to respond.
—Ask the doctor how he/she feels about phone calls from parents. This is a great way to determine comfort level. A pediatrician should encourage parents to call for any reason, at any time!
—Ask the doctor the procedure for dealing with emergency situations. How does the practice handle emergency calls from parents? After hours, what kind of answering service does the doctor use, and how fast can you expect a response?
—With which hospital is the doctor affiliated? Given the choice, does he/she recommend taking your child to that hospital in an emergency? Know this in advance! Or should you just head for your closest ER, calling the pediatrician along the way?
—If it is a group practice, ask about logistics. Can your child be seen by the same doctor each time? When might you expect another doctor to either see your child, or respond to you by telephone?
—Think about whether the doctor gave you his/her full attention and the way he/she answered your questions. Did you feel respected? Did you feel comfortable with the answers and the dialogue?
—Trust your instincts! Unless you would give the doctor an A+ rating after the consultation, move onto the next one!
—If you feel you are close to selecting a certain pediatrician, ask friends/acquaintances who might know the doctor what their experiences have been — both as a parent, and from their child's comfort level.
Should you choose a pediatrician who is also a parent?
While it's true that fellow parents understand so well the issues you may be going through, great pediatricians do not have to be parents to be the best doctor for your child. Don't discount a pediatrician who is childless, for that reason alone!
And remember …
There is never a wrong time to leave a pediatrician to find another. If your doctor is not working out, for any reason, find another!