If you are expecting a baby soon or maybe moving to a new area, choosing a pediatrician for your child can seem like a daunting task. Where do you start? When do you start? Does it really matter which doctor sees your baby or child?
Here are a few ideas to make the process a little easier, more organized and less stressful.
Choose your pediatrician six to eight weeks before your baby is due. Start by checking with your medical insurance provider to see which doctors are on your plan. Next, talk to friends and neighbors about who their children see. Look for a doctor with a personality or practice style that most suits you. Some offices have a brisk and efficient style, while others are laid back and nurturing. Various doctors are chatty, soft spoken or humorous with their patients. Also, ask your obstetrician’s office if they have a referral list. Check the pediatricians’ websites for information on things like office hours, appointment scheduling and availability, and office policies. Ask if the doctor is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics.
Meet the pediatrician ahead of time. Call the office to see if they have a “Meet the Doctor” night or appointment times set aside to meet with expectant parents. Gauge if you feel comfortable talking with the doctor. Determine if the staff is friendly and attentive. Find out if there are separate waiting rooms for sick and well children. Note that some offices may charge a fee for a one-on-one visit with the doctor. Be sure to ask if there will be any charges when you schedule the visit.
Bring questions with you. A good doctor or nurse will be more than happy to answer all of your questions. Your list should include questions like: Who will see my baby in the hospital after delivery – your pediatrician, one of the practice partners or a hospitalist? Who performs circumcisions – the obstetrician or the pediatrician? When should you schedule your first visit? What happens if you have questions or concerns outside of office hours? Is there a nurse available to answer questions during the day? What about at night? What is the expected vaccine schedule for your baby? If baby is sick, can you get same day appointments? How many other doctors are in the practice? How often will you have to see a different doctor?
Give extra consideration if you have a high-risk pregnancy. While all board certified pediatricians should be comfortable seeing a child with a disability or more complicated medical history, sometimes it is helpful to find a doctor who has more experience or familiarity with your baby’s condition. For example, some pediatricians see more children with cerebral palsy or Down’s syndrome. You can also check specific websites, such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association, for support groups and parent connections that can help you find the right pediatrician. If you are seeing a prenatal specialist, ask for a referral.
Involve your older child when finding a new doctor. Perhaps you’ve moved or maybe your child’s doctor has moved, retired or no longer accepts your insurance. Now what? Your neighbors, school nurses and community resources are a great place to start. You may want to find a more experienced pediatrician if your older child is facing some emotional or academic issues that require a physician’s help to coordinate services. Look for someone who is comfortable talking with adolescents and interested in their activities and social needs. A good pediatrician is comfortable with all age ranges, newborn to young adult, but you may want to be sure your older child is comfortable. You may want to bring your child in for a simple sick visit, such as a runny nose or rash, in order to meet the doctor. If you aren’t comfortable, you can always try a different practice next time. It is good, however, to be established with a physician so that when your child is truly ill, the doctor is familiar with your child’s medical history, and you don’t have to wait for an appointment because you are considered a new patient.
Once you’ve chosen a pediatrician, you can relax and rest easy knowing who you will see and what to expect when your child needs to see the doctor.
Dr. Theresa Willis is a board certified pediatric physician practicing in Austin.