Well, for a parenting column by a pediatrician, you would think the topic of how to choose a pediatrician would be easy. But there are many more things to consider today than when I started practicing more than 25 years ago. So, while I can offer many tips on this important decision, it is ultimately very personal.
Your family will see the pediatrician often, especially in the first few years of life, so your comfort level with the doctor, the other doctors in the office (because sometimes you might have appointments with them), nurses and office staff is critical. You can gauge this by talking on the phone or possibly scheduling an appointment to meet with the doctor.
For parents-to-be, the selection of a pediatrician should happen before the baby arrives. One of the first things that you will be asked when checking into the hospital to have your baby is, Who is your pediatrician? If you don’t have one, many hospitals have doctors who care for babies while they are in the hospital, but when you go home, the first in-office appointment with a pediatrician should be scheduled within two days. So it is best to have chosen your pediatrician ahead of time.
Convenience, both in terms of location and scheduling appointments, also is a significant factor in your selection process. Is it better for the doctor’s office to be close to your home, or if your child is in day care, closer to work? Again, it’s a personal decision. While the convenience of having the office close to work helps for routine appointments, it might not be so easy if your child is sick. Keep in mind that when you get a call saying your baby has a fever, most child care centers expect the child to be picked up within the hour. In that case, you might not be able to get in to see the doctor that quickly and end up backtracking.
Some physician offices allow you to schedule appointments online or send a question to the doctor or nurse via a secured online system. This has proven beneficial for many parents, especially when a baby wakes up with a fever in the middle of the night. Often you have to wait and call when the office opens, at the same time everyone else is calling. If you can schedule your appointment online, day or night, you will have peace of mind without waiting until morning to call.
Treatment philosophy is another aspect to consider. Talk with the doctor in advance so he or she knows your feelings on things such as antibiotics, immunizations, etc. You should have open communication with your child’s care provider and understand why things are done. Never be afraid to ask questions.
If your child ever needs hospitalization, or even just an outpatient lab test done, continuity of care is important. Will your child’s records be readily available to doctors and nurses in the hospital? Many doctors’ offices are moving toward electronic health records but not all speak the same language. As an example, the pediatricians who are part of Mercy Clinic share the same system as Mercy Children’s Hospital and, therefore, share records providing coordinated care.
Remember, this is one of the most important decisions you will make for your children. You should feel comfortable with the doctor and with the care the doctor and others in the office provide. LN
Dr. Joseph Kahn is Department of Pediatrics Chair at Mercy Children’s Hospital, stjohnsmercy.org.