How to Choose a Pediatrician

Are you looking for the perfect doctor for your child but don’t know where to start? Learn how to interview candidates and communicate effectively with your child’s physician.

Every parent dreams of the perfect doctor for their child—someone willing to answer every question with patience and grace while simultaneously providing gentle, friendly, and even fun healthcare. Trying to find “the perfect pediatrician” is often a difficult process for new parents. There is so much to consider. Where and how do you begin your search?

Understanding how doctors become pediatricians is a good place in which to begin your quest. Specialists in pediatrics spend at least three years studying children’s health problems. Many then devote additional years to studying a specific area of pediatrics such as heart, lung, or endocrine problems.

Why a Pediatrician?

Making the decision as to which type of specialist to use is truly a personal one for parents,” explains Dr. Bernadette S. Haggerty, MD, a pediatrician on staff with Texas Children’s Pediatric Associates in Woodland, Texas. “However, there are differences between pediatricians and family practitioners, and it is important that you determine what factors are most significant to your family before choosing your child’s doctor.”

Parents should keep in mind that pediatric specialists have more extensive training in and experience with children’s health issues than any other type of doctor. However, over half of all children in many areas of the nation receive their routine care from someone other than a pediatrician. Family practitioners and nurse practitioners are capable of caring for the common healthcare needs of children, but because children tend to visit doctors far more often than adults, choosing a pediatrician over a family doctor can be quite beneficial.

The Search Process

Insider recommendations from someone working in healthcare remain the fastest and best way to find a good pediatrician. Try calling the nursery or delivery room at your local birthing center or hospital and ask for a few recommendations. You can also visit your local WFA Moms guide’s listing of pediatricians for a list of pediatric offices in your area. Combine these recommendations and resources with the experiences of other parents who have taken their children to recommended doctors.

Be aware that calling a physician referral service doesn’t necessarily help you find the best doctor. Often these services give recommendations by simply giving you a name from their list of doctors on the hospital or health plan staff. The referral service frequently does this on a rotating basis so that the recommendation you receive depends on which doctor is next on the list. Rarely will the referral service give you any idea which physician is best. In fact, most of the time the people who staff the referral service are not in a position to know the qualifications of individual doctors.

When asking around for referrals and recommendations, be sure to inquire if the pediatrician is board certified. Your child’s pediatrician should be certified by the American Board of Pediatrics (ABP) if she has been in practice for more than a few years. Pediatricians certified after 1988 must take an examination every seven years to recertify and retain their board certification.

The Parent-Pediatrician Relationship

You should view your child’s doctor as your partner and advisor and use her as a resource. You, the parent, remain primarily responsible for helping your child stay healthy.

However, you must have confidence in your child’s doctor if the partnership is to work. If you don’t have confidence in your child’s pediatrician, summarize why and discuss these issues with the doctor. If you are not able to resolve the issues, you may need to find another doctor.

How a pediatrician’s practice is organized will most likely influence your relationship with that doctor. Smaller clinics with only a few practicing doctors increase the likelihood that your child can see the same doctor on repeated visits. But larger practices with 10 to 15 pediatricians make it more difficult to see the same doctor each time; however, sometimes these offices offer a wider range of expertise and services as well. There are advantages and disadvantages to both small and large groups.

Interviewing Pediatricians

After you have done your research and have several recommendations, make an appointment to meet one or two of your favorite candidates. Building a relationship with your child’s pediatrician before you need his services reduces anxiety. Be sure to ask if the pediatric office has pamphlets available describing their practice and their doctors’ personal approaches to common pediatric problems.

Prior to your interview, map out a list of questions that you’d like to have answered and make several copies. Having this “worksheet” in hand will help you address all your concerns, plus you can then review your notes later and make an informed decision about which doctor best suits your and your child’s needs.

Also ask if you will need to make a co-payment before your interview, much as you would for a regular doctor’s visit. Sometimes initial interviews with doctors are not covered by your health insurance or require a separate payment to the pediatric office.

Some pediatricians are so busy that they do not provide interviews. This may indicate the amount of personal attention you are likely to receive, should you choose that practice. Keep in mind that no matter how good a pediatrician is reported to be, if he or she is overworked, your interaction with him or her is likely to be unsatisfactory.

The Right Pediatrician

A pediatrician, like all good primary care doctors, can become a trusted family friend and advisor. Choosing a good pediatrician requires a modest amount of effort.

Chances are the bulk of your decision will be attributed to how the pediatrician makes you and your child feel. A good doctor knows how to not only put your mind at ease, but can also interact successfully with your child.

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