Bringing home your new baby is an exciting time! You’ve researched topics that are important to you, like feeding, sleeping and the “best” car seat, using multiple sources. But when it comes to picking your child’s pediatrician, what research did you do? Did you shop around? What factors influenced your decision (and which factors are important to consider)?
Here are key points to consider when picking a pediatrician (it is by no means exhaustive!), as well as points that may not be as important as you think.
What to Consider When Picking a Pediatrician
- Office Staff – A good deal of your interaction with your child’s pediatrician’s office will be with the office staff. Is the receptionist friendly? How easy is it to get in touch with someone regarding billing? While this may not seem important, you will be dealing with these “gate keepers” a lot (especially as a nervous new parent). It’s a plus if they are friendly and helpful.
- Solo vs Group Practice – People vary greatly with their opinion on which is “better,” and there is no right answer. Some parents prefer a solo practice because they feel they will develop a better relationship with a single provider. They want someone who will know their child’s medical history without having to read their entire chart; they will be less of a number and more of an individual. Solo practices are not without limitations – one doctor means one person to handle all medical situations. You may have to wait or reschedule an appointment if a situation arises, but you know you will also receive that level of care should it be needed. Office hours may be limited, but they also may be more accommodating since the doctor is his own boss.
With a group practice, while there will always be someone on-call, it may not be “your” pediatrician. Their philosophy may not match yours (or that of “your” pediatrician). You may receive conflicting advice (of course, both medically sound). Because there are several providers, extended office hours may be possible. You will find some group practices to be awesome and others not so much (the same holds true for solo practices).
- Nurses/Other Medical Staff – When you call the office with a medical question, you will likely speak with a nurse. Does the practice have dedicated phone nurses? Is that service included in your co-pays or is it extra? How is their “bedside” manner? Some practices have Physician’s Assistants or Nurse Practitioners who will see patients. Are you okay with this or would you prefer to see the doctor all the time?
- Medical Philosophies – Your child’s pediatrician works for you, not the other way around. Inevitably your child will get sick at some point in the 18 years he is seeing his pediatrician. It is important to learn where a provider stands on issues such as: antibiotic use, vaccinations, and integrative medicine approaches, for example. Does the doctor jump to antibiotics or give the “bug” a few days to run its course? Make sure their philosophies are ones you are comfortable with.
Regardless of where you stand on vaccines, it is important that you find a provider who is open to you calling the ‘shots’ (because it IS your child). What if your child has an adverse reaction to a vaccine and you decide to stop with that series (or all vaccines)? Is your pediatrician going to ask that you leave the practice because you don’t want to continue with the series that caused a reaction?
- Proximity to home/daycare/work – Newborns typically go once a month to the pediatrician. How long of a drive are you willing to make on a regular basis? Also, as previously mentioned, your child will inevitably get sick. A 30 minute drive may not seem bad for a “check up,” but what about for a sick visit? What your pediatrician’s practice is close to isn’t as important as that it is close to where you are the majority of the time. If you’re a stay at home parent, it makes sense to pick a pediatrician that is close to your house, since that is where you will predominantly be. If you work close to your child’s daycare, consider picking a pediatrician close to those locations. Well-visits can be scheduled; you want somewhere convenient for when your child must go to the pediatrician unexpectedly.
- Hospital Affiliation – We don’t like to think about it, but if something goes wrong and your child needs to go to the hospital, which one do you want him at? If the pediatrician has rights at the local children’s hospitals, even better! These facilities are best equipped to handle pediatric patients, especially in emergency situations. In Westchester, the children’s hospitals are Maria Fareri and Blythdale.
Do Not Base Your Decision Solely On:
- Education – So much more goes into making a great physician other than where he obtained his degree or completed his residency. Physicians are a combination of their effort, education, mentorship, and personal characteristics. You also don’t know why a physician chose a particular school/residency program. Did they want to be close to their family? Was one more affordable than another? All pediatricians must meet the same standard requirements to practice, so education doesn’t need to be a “make or break” factor.
- Recommendations – While Facebook groups can be a wealth of knowledge, the parents providing the recommendations may not have the same standards, philosophies, and concerns as you. If you want to speak with close friends or family who have young children, that’s great! These people know you and will probably know if the right choice for them would be a good choice for you. Crowd-sourcing from a Facebook group? You will definitely get a range of recommendations and it can be a good place to start, but definitely shouldn’t be the deciding factor in choosing a pediatrician.
- Divided Waiting Areas – This sounds brilliant on the surface and people tend to feel very strongly about this issue on both sides of the argument. “Keep the sick and healthy children separate so the healthy children don’t get sick” is the basis for this. It can be reassuring to see that there are separate toys for “sick” children when you’re there for a well-visit. But that raises the question of how and how often the toys are cleaned. Could your “sick” child pick up another “bug” by playing with the toys on the “sick” side of the waiting room? What about airborne illnesses? Or the children on the “well” side who are incubating an illness but not outwardly sick? Unless the waiting rooms are totally separated and toys are cleaned after each child, I would not use this as a deciding factor. My suggestion? If you can wear your child or put him in a stroller with toys from home, do it. When he’s older, bring a book for him to read or a coloring book to keep him busy until it’s his turn.
- Make a list of factors that are important to you.
- Set up an interview with the pediatricians who are close to you and who’s names come up frequently. Get to know them and their staff and decide if it will be a good fit for your family.
- Start your search early (while you’re still pregnant, if possible). Don’t stop until you find a pediatrician you’re comfortable with; this person is your partner in ensuring your child’s health for the next 18 years.