The advice of other parents. The atmosphere of the doctor's office. Office hours convenient to your work schedule. Gut instinct. All are important things to take into account when you choose a pediatrician.
Your child's pediatrician is your partner in promoting your child's health and development. That means you should feel comfortable with your choice. Interviewing several pediatricians at their offices is the best way to pick your partner.
When to start? When you're still pregnant. With all of the excitement and physical changes during pregnancy, it's easy to overlook the fact that you're about to become a parent! In the last trimester of your pregnancy, your baby is growing rapidly and you have lots to think about. But feeling comfortable with the person you choose to be your baby's doctor is as important as finding a safe crib.
Beginning Your Search
Sometime after the 30th week of pregnancy, make an appointment for you and your partner to meet with a pediatrician or a few pediatricians in their offices.
Be sure that the individual is board-certified in pediatrics or family medicine and has had at least three years of training in pediatrics or family medicine. The state medical society or the staff at the physician's office could give you this basic information.
To get a list of prospects, ask your own health care provider, your parents, or friends you respect. Ask them why they like or dislike a certain doctor — their reasons may not be the same as yours. You could also call your local medical society, board of health, or hospital for some references.
You can find out a lot about a doctor during this prenatal pediatric visit. He or she should be a person with whom you would feel comfortable discussing any issue concerning your child and your family. Each appointment should last 15 or 20 minutes. It's not a good sign if a doctor won't meet with you — scratch him or her off your list!
Some of what goes into your decision may simply be based on impressions, personality, and instinct.
You may want to:
- Pay attention to the office setting. Is the waiting room clean, bright, and playful? Is it calm and safe?
- Get a sense of how much the members of the staff enjoy working with children.
- Notice how interested the pediatrician is in you and your expectations about your child.
- See how the doctor's style and personality blend with yours.
Here are a few general things to talk over with the pediatricians you meet:
- The doctor's or the medical group's availability in an emergency.
- How their office hours work with your schedule.
- How they would support your choices about feeding your baby.
- What they think about your plans for child care.
- Their special medical interests or expertise in children's health and development.
Here are some specific questions to ask:
- When are your office hours?
- How can we see someone after hours?
- When can I reach you and your staff by phone?
- What do we do in an emergency when the doctor isn't available?
- Can we call with questions that wouldn't require an office visit? Do you charge for such "telephone time"?
- How much time do you allow for office visits? (A good answer would be 15 minutes or more.)
- What hospitals do you use and what HMOs do you work with?
- When will I bring my baby for the first office visit? (A good answer would be within the first week, especially if you've had a short maternity stay in the hospital.)
- How can you help me understand my child's development?
- If our child has behavior problems that we can't control, how comfortable will you be in helping us with them?
- What's your advice about working and parenting?
- How well do you know the infant and toddler programs in the community?
A Switch in Time
If your HMO or birth center has already assigned you a pediatrician, it's not too late to make sure he or she is the right choice for you. Interview him or her. You can ask your health care plan for its list of pediatricians and interview one or two others, too.
If you have already brought your baby to a pediatrician you don't feel comfortable with, it's not too late to switch. Even if your health care plan has a list of doctors you must choose from, that list is probably quite long. Ask your health plan what steps you can take to find a pediatrician within the plan that meets your needs, your schedule, and your style.
Once you begin a comfortable relationship with your pediatrician, you will feel more relaxed and confident about childbirth and the lifelong devotion of parenting.