Choosing the Right Pediatrician
When expecting a baby, you are faced with a barrage of decisions over a span of nine months. Names? Crib or bassinet? What color should we paint the room? Among the hundreds of small (and big) decisions, there’s one that shouldn’t be taken lightly: choosing a pediatrician.
Choosing the right pediatrician will help get your child off to a great start. Pediatricians are specially trained in the health and illnesses of children from infants, through adolescence and even into the young adult years. A good doctor will become a great source of information and advice for parents navigating their children’s health over the years.
The process of choosing a pediatrician can seem confusing and stressful to new parents, especially if they haven’t been to a pediatrician since they were a child. We talked to Dr. Michael Faust, a pediatrician at Washington Health System to get a doctor’s perspective on the process of choosing a health provider for your child.
According to Dr. Faust, the best way to get started is to simply talk to family, friends and people in your local community. Think about your coworkers and neighbors—anyone you associate with who have children.
“Typically, the people that you associate with are those whose values you share and opinions you trust. This is a great topic to discuss with them,” notes Dr. Faust. However, he emphasizes the importance of talking to people with children of varying ages, not just those with new babies. You want to look for a doctor that will be a good fit for the child as he or she grows.
When you get a few recommendations, here are a few things you may want to ask:
- Does the doctor have a good reputation?
- Does the doctor really seem to listen to you? Or are visits rushed?
- How long do you typically spend in the waiting room?
- Is the location convenient?
- Are the staff friendly and helpful?
Another issue to consider is whether your child has any special needs. Dr. Faust reassured us that pediatricians, as a group, are pretty experienced with special-needs children. However, if you belong to a special needs community or know others with children that have similar needs, it never hurts to get a recommendation from them. If your child sees any specialists, they may be a good resource as well.
After you have a few good recommendations, make sure to check out their credentials. Dr. Faust recommends visiting the website for The American Board of Pediatrics (www.abp.org). To become certified by the ABP, doctors must pass a comprehensive examination which covers all areas of health related to children from birth to young adult.
You’ll also find a myriad of websites that offer reviews of pediatricians and other types of doctors, but Dr. Faust recommends against relying on these types of sites. Many of the doctors only have a few reviews, and that isn’t enough to give a true or fair representation. People are also more likely to leave a review of a doctor (or any other kind of service provider) if they have had a bad experience than if they had a good one, so ratings can be misleading.
Whether you are expecting a baby, moving to a new town or are simply unhappy with your current pediatrician, a great way to get a feel for a doctor and the office is to set up an interview. Dr. Faust explains that most pediatricians are happy to meet with prospective patients and families and, in fact, encourage it. Besides being a way to choose the right doctor, paying a visit to a pediatrician’s office can be a great way for parents to get familiar with the process and learn more about regular checkups, sick visits, vaccinations, etc.
Before your scheduled interview, sit down and create a list of questions for the prospective pediatrician. Here are a few questions you may want to start with:
- What is the doctor’s training and experience?
- Is he/she board-certified?
- Will my child see the same doctor every time?
- Who will cover for my doctor when he/she is not available?
- How long does it typically take to get an appointment?
- Does the office offer same-day sick visits?
- How are emergency and after-hours calls handled?
- What hospital is the pediatrician affiliated with?
- Does the office accept my insurance?
“I think it is important to ask some open-ended questions to get a general feel for the pediatrician,” says Dr. Faust. Here are some of the questions that he suggests, but you can ask about anything that is important to you:
- What do you think about the current flu season?
- What is the greatest challenge you face in medicine?
- What about your practice brings you joy?
- What are your relationships like with the other doctors in the practice?
Lastly, many people have strong opinions on children’s health and parenting philosophies. Dr. Faust shared an experience he personally had and explains how it relates to this topic:
“About ten years ago I changed the brakes on my car. It took me longer than the mechanic would take, but it saved me a little money. A while later I had my car in for state inspection and they said to me, ‘Did you know your brake pads are on backwards?’ It was a good reminder that – while I assume I am an intelligent man – intelligence and knowledge are not interchangeable concepts.”
He explains that you should share your opinions and parenting/health philosophies with your pediatrician, and if they are a good doctor, they will listen to you. They should be willing to consider your perspective as well as offer their own knowledge and perspective.
“But if a pediatrician has heard your thoughts, yet indicates that your views may not be in the best interest of your child, please listen,” he urges. “That is not to say you must comply with everything your pediatrician says, but you need to acknowledge that their experience and education run a little deeper than most when it comes to the care of children.”
According to Dr. Faust, when it comes down to it, trusting your gut is usually the right thing to do. A pediatrician could have the best reputation in town, but if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Finding a good relationship with a doctor that you can trust will provide you with an ally in your children’s health for years to come.