Choosing the right pediatrician is an important task facing
every new parent and "choice" is the critical word.
Years ago parents didn't give it much thought. They chose the
doctor in the neighborhood, or the one who their friends liked, or
the one their obstetrician recommended. Today, many parents expect
to actively participate in finding the right "fit" between their
family and their pediatrician. He or she will help you understand
some of the most important aspects of your child's health and may
have a significant influence on your parenting style.
These days many practitioners understand the importance of the
doctor-patient relationship, so they set aside office hours to be
interviewed by expectant parents. Develop a list of three or four
possible choices and make an appointment with each doctor. After
making the appointments many new parents don't know what questions
Here's what I suggest: One of the most important things to try
to understand is the pediatrician's philosophy. There are
guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics that most
pediatricians follow, but styles vary widely and can make a big
difference in how comfortable parents feel. For example, how does
the pediatrician feel about breast feeding? Many new mothers want
to breast feed, but it isn't the right choice for others. How would
the pediatrician handle this? What about circumcision? How about
disciplinary issues? Is the practice focused on education and
wellness? What kinds of educational materials do they use? What is
their philosophy on medications? Some parents are very opposed to
them, other are more comfortable. How does the pediatrician feel
about complementary therapies? How does the pediatrician feel about
second opinions and referrals to specialists? Is there a nurse or
other health practitioner who can answer basic parenting questions
between visits such as about constipation or excessive crying?
Some parents need a lot of guidance and reassurance. If that's
your style, it's best to find a pediatrician whose practice
provides that. When you're interviewing the doctor try to get a
sense of his or her communication style. Is he or she a good
listener? If you are a new parent, does the pediatrician seem
patient with your questions? If not, this will probably continue
after you deliver.
Ask about the doctor's training and experience. Does he or she
have a particular area of interest or expertise? Is he or she board
certified? Board certification indicates that the doctor has
completed the necessary training and has passed a test of the basic
knowledge needed in that specialty. There are also ongoing
requirements to maintain certification. In general, board
certification is more important than the school the doctor went to
or whether he or she graduated with honors.
Next, think about how the practice runs. How long will it take
the practice to answer your phone calls? Often parents may have
their phone calls answered by someone other than the doctor. As a
parent, are you comfortable with that? Can you expect to see the
same doctor at every visit? How do they handle urgent visits for
fever or other illnesses? Does the office staff seem friendly and
competent? What is the typical wait time to get an appointment and
how long can you expect to wait at a typical visit? Do they have
office hours compatible with your schedule, for example, in the
evenings and on weekends? What is the process if your child gets
sick and you need an urgent appointment? Who is available at 3 a.m.
if your child gets a fever and you need answers right away? Do they
use e-mail and if so, for what kinds of issues?
If your child needs to be hospitalized, do you prefer a
particular hospital? If so, does the doctor have admitting
privileges at that hospital? If not, ask if a trusted colleague can
handle an admission if necessary.
Finally, ask the pediatrician what he or she feels are the most
important things for you to consider as you try to choose a doctor
for your child. The answer may surprise you and will probably give
you a lot of insight into the doctor's values and priorities.
Remember that your choice doesn't have to be final. Once you
have your baby you may be surprised by how much your own priorities
will change. If you and the doctor don't click, ask to have your
records transferred to the number two person on your list.
Dr. Lisa Thornton, a mother of three, is director of pediatric rehabilitation at Schwab Rehabilitation Hospital and LaRabida Children’s Hospital. She also is assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago.
See more of Dr. Thornton's stories here.
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