Picking a Pediatrician

Earlier this week, a friend of mine who is expecting her first child emailed me with a quick question about who our pediatrician is and whether or not we would recommend that person.  Of course, being the long-winded person I am, I could not give her a simple answer – and ended up responding with all the pros, cons, and other tidbits I could think of regarding our experience with our particular pediatrician. 

Although we had completed our due diligence during pregnancy (interviewing various pediatricians, asking what we thought were the “right” questions, etc), we have the benefit of hindsight now that we’re on the other side of the fence.  We’re reasonably happy with our pediatrician so I suppose got lucky; but if I could go back in time, this would be my new and improved selection process:

  • Ask for Referrals.  Duh.  I didn’t even ask my OB-GYN.  I should have.  I did ask a couple friends, but their pediatricians were out of network for me, so I let it go there.  I admit I ended up resorting to Yelp for my top candidates.
  • “Scope Out” Referrals.  Once I had a list of referrals from trusted sources, NOW would be the time for me to scope them out.  Check their websites.  Go to Health Grades and search for reviews.  And yes, now would be the time to even go to Yelp.
  • Check Scheduling.  Sure, it seems trivial now, but when you’re a new mom wanting to take your baby in with issues…  Or having to take your baby in as often as every month or two for vaccinations… You’re going to want a pediatrician who has a schedule in synch with yours.  I found many that were only open a few hours a day, Monday through Friday.  And only a handful (if that) who were open any Saturdays at all (which was important for us).  Are you going to want to schedule appointments for weekends?  After work?  Then make sure your potential candidates can accommodate that.
  • Confirm In Network.  Ah, the joys of medical insurance.  Before moving any further, I would now contact my insurance company to make sure my top candidates are “in network.”  ‘Nuff said.
  • Request Consultation.  At this point I would call each office and request a consultation with the pediatrician.  I felt a bit awkward doing this at first (after all, I’ve never contacted any other type of doctor for a consultation), but apparently it is pretty common.  All candidates I called except for 1 had special hours for these consultations.  That 1 was scratched off the list.
  • Ask the Right Questions.  Here is where I semi-failed.  I didn’t have the baby yet, so I didn’t have the right questions.  You don’t know what you don’t know.  If I could do it over, these are the areas I would focus on:

– Confirm hours of operation and urgent visit policies.
– How can the doctor be contacted after-hours?  What is the response time?
– What hospital affiliations does the doctor have?
– Can I email you with non-urgent questions?  What is your response time?  (I would have never thought to ask this.  Fortunately, my pediatrician offers it.  This has been a lifesaver for me – I am able to email him questions, pictures, and even videos of non-urgent issues so he can take a look and respond.  Has saved me a LOT of trips to the doctors’ office)
– Will you always see the same doctor?  (A family practice was important to me; others have a group of doctors and it is only guaranteed that you will see one of them)
– When will you come to the hospital post-birth?  How many times?  (I think once is standard; however, mine came every day I was in the hospital which was appreciated)
IF APPLICABLE, What are your views on modified vaccination schedules?  (I ran into an issue where my pediatrician and I had differing view on this – led to several tense conversations and emails, and I wish I had simply asked upfront)
– What are your views on breastfeeding vs. formula feeding?  (Even if you plan to breastfeed, it doesn’t always work out.  You want a doctor who will support you in whatever you choose instead of adding even more guilt and pressure)
– Who covers in the event that you are unavailable, on vacation, etc?
– Any other questions about their medical views on nutrition, antibiotics, disease, as well as probing to get a feel as to how they interact with the kids.

  • Talk to Parents in the Office.  How long have they been using this pediatrician?  What do they like/dislike?  How long do they have to wait to see the doctor each time they come in?  etc.
  • Hire.  By this, I mean that you simply let your birthing hospital know who your pediatrician is, and let the pediatrician know that you’ve decided to go with them.

Now that I’m a parent, the things I most appreciate about my pediatrician is that I never have to wait (once we arrive, we are seen right away), they are great at handling urgent issues (since they don’t overbook, I’m able to come in at any time and be seen almost immediately), I’m able to contact him via email, he knows me and my family personally (e.g. we’re not just a number), he is open one Saturday a month, and he has accommodated some of my requests despite disagreeing (e.g. a modified vaccination schedule).  These are not all things I thought would matter to me before the baby had arrived.

I continue to learn how important the mother/pediatrician relationship is, so do pick someone you trust, can talk to openly, and who will not downplay your concerns.  Pick someone who you would be comfortable discussing poop patterns with.  Someone who you would be comfortable sending pictures of dirty diapers to (yes, we have done this).  And someone who will care for your child’s health almost as much as you do.

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