Make sure your baby gets the best care possible when you choose a pediatrician. Whether there are dozens of options in your area or just a few, these steps and tips will help you make a final decision.
How to Find Pediatricians
The search for a pediatrician usually starts before your baby is born. The idea is to have a doctor lined up in advance because you will be very busy once the baby is born and there are specific, short time frames when checkups and vaccines are recommended. Depending on your situation and location, there are a few places to begin your search. Each of these starting points can be your first step, but you'll likely want to explore all three avenues at some point.
Start asking family and other parents you know who they take their children to. Take note of which places are mentioned repeatedly for good and bad qualities. Don't be afraid to ask specific questions like:
- What do you like best/least about the doctor?
- What do like/not like about how the office runs?
- How do your kids feel about their pediatrician (if relevant)?
- How long have you been seeing this pediatrician?
- Do you find the office staff helpful?
For many people, baby health insurance coverage plays a huge role in medical choices. Insurance plans tend to cover basic care from in-network providers while parents pay for non-routine care and out-of-network providers. If finances are a concern, start by contacting your insurance carrier to find options with the most cost coverage. If you find a great pediatrician first, you can then ask your insurance company to cover that doctor. They may not agree, but it's worth a try if you find a doctor you really love.
Depending on whether you live in an urban or rural area, it may be helpful to start with an online search for nearby pediatric offices. Healthychildren.org offers an easy search tool to find a board-certified pediatrician near you who is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Regional hospitals should also be able to give you information about doctors in the area. You may find there are lots of options or only one or two doctors near where you live. When you know what the field looks like, you'll see whether extra research is necessary or not.
Research Your Options
Once you've gathered a good list of options, it's time to start sorting through them. Think about your lifestyle and your baby's needs when considering these factors.
The distance from your home to the doctor's office is important especially if you have limited transportation or live in an area prone to inclement weather.
- How far are you willing to travel for routine care?
- What about in an emergency situation?
- Is public transportation available in the area if needed?
Personal Philosophy and Beliefs
At this point, you've probably given some thought to your values about child-rearing. Does the physician share in these values? Does it matter to you if she doesn't? Areas you'll want to assess include your doctor's stance on:
- Breast-feeding or bottle feeding
- Homeopathic remedies
- Gender roles or stereotypes
- Cultural beliefs
- Use of antibiotics
The size of a pediatrician's practice can affect the number of patients she sees, her ability to respond to emergency situations, and appointment availability. Large practices often house more than one medical professional and may even have multiple office locations. Smaller practices have limited openings and may include only one pediatrician or pediatric nurse practitioner.
- Are they currently accepting new patients?
- How long does it typically take to get an appointment?
- How many doctors and nurses work at the office?
- What hours is the practice open?
- Are there multiple locations for the practice?
- What is the cancellation policy?
- Are walk-in hours available?
- In an emergency, who sees the child - his primary pediatrician or anyone who is available?
- Who handles after-hours calls?
All pediatricians must finish four years of medical school and three years residency in pediatrics. To practice in the U.S. pediatricians must also obtain a license. Requirements for licensing vary from state to state. Beyond this standard education, pediatricians can become board certified or obtain specialized training in specific areas like cardiology.
If the doctor's background is important to you, ask about:
- Where she went to college
- Why she chose pediatrics
- If she has children
- What additional credentials she holds
- What organizations she is affiliated with
If you live in a large area with several hospitals, your pediatrician may be affiliated with a specific one. This hospital may be close by or farther away. If the doctor's office has a website you may find this information there or you can call and ask. Many pediatricians work with hospitals to provide care to newborns in the hospital. Choosing a pediatrician affiliated with the hospital where you'll give birth offers the opportunity for comprehensive care from one doctor from the time your baby is born.
If you have a family history of specific medical conditions or already know through prenatal care your baby will be born with special needs you may want to look for a specialized pediatrician. As this doctor is likely to be considered a specialist, you'll want to contact the insurance company to find out if you need a referral to get coverage and who to get a referral from.
Make a Decision
Once you've gathered information about pediatricians in your area and evaluated your personal needs, it's time to meet the doctors and make a final decision. While it may seem uncommon, you can visit each office left on your list to get a sense of the atmosphere. It's best to do this after you've narrowed the list down to two or three options so you don't get overwhelmed. Call each office and ask about scheduling a time to meet the doctor. This probably won't be covered by insurance, so make sure to ask about the cost of a meeting. If you can't afford an in-person meeting or the office can't schedule one ask about a quick phone interview.
Now you're ready to evaluate all your research and make a decision. Choose a pediatrician who best fits your needs then get your child signed up as a new patient.
The Best Baby Care
As a parent you always strive to provide the best for your baby. Take time to weigh your options and examine different pediatric doctors before making a final decision. Finding a pediatrician is one of many important things you'll do for your child.