Every parent wants the best possible healthcare for their children. A pediatrician can provide the specialized medical care your little one needs since they will be responsible for your child’s health from infancy to teenage. Hence it is important to choose the right pediatrician for your baby.
So, how do you choose the right pediatrician? Selecting a pediatrician requires research and consideration of several factors. This post provides the factors that need to be considered before making the final decision.
Who Is A Pediatrician?
A pediatrician is a medical doctor qualified to manage the health, well-being, and development of children, adolescents, and young adults. It is an umbrella term for primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists, and pediatric surgical specialists. Pediatricians have four years of medical school education followed by at least 1-3 years of medical training. They keep refining their expertise by gaining experience through reading, training, and regular evaluations of their knowledge (1).
When Should You Start Looking For A Pediatrician?
Prospective parents may start looking for a pediatrician in the second trimester of pregnancy, that is, about three to five months before the baby’s arrival. Finding the right pediatrician requires proper research. Starting the search early will give you plenty of time to assess all the options available before reaching a consensus. It is a good idea to meet several pediatricians before finalizing one. Check your comfort level with the doctor and build a connection with them.
If you have recently moved to a new location or are planning to move, it is best to start the search early. You may need a little more time to look for a competent childcare specialist in a new area (2).
Things To Consider When Choosing A Pediatrician
You may consider the following points when choosing a pediatrician.
1. Office location
It is best to choose a pediatrician near your residence, workplace, or child’s potential daycare center or school. During the first year, you might need to visit the doctor for vaccinations and check-ups frequently. Also, if your baby falls ill, you can reach the clinic quickly if it is nearby (3).
2. Recommendations of the OB-GYN
Sometimes, you may not have to look far while selecting a pediatrician. Your OB-GYN may help you choose the right one since you would have been consulting them for quite some time now. Your OB-GYN might be familiar with qualified, experienced, and well-respected pediatricians in your area due to their closely linked specialties (4). They might even connect you to a few and put in a good word for you.
3. Recommendations of friends and family
Friends or family members with children and those who became parents recently can recommend a pediatrician to you. Remember to explore all the recommendations and make your own opinion. Do not stick to an option only because a family member or good friend recommended it.
4. Patient reviews
Patient reviews can communicate a great deal about the pediatrician’s practice. It may help gauge the doctor’s competency, demeanor, communication style, accessibility during emergencies, ease of handling queries, and attention given to each patient. Explore patient reviews on various online websites and portals. It might also help you find feedback about other attributes, such as ease of booking an appointment, staff behavior, wait time, and office atmosphere.
Gender may not be a problem when your child is a baby, but it might create some issues as they grow older. Some children could be more comfortable sharing their problems with a pediatrician of the same gender. If you intend to take your child to the same pediatrician even during their childhood and teenage years, choosing a pediatrician of the same gender as your child could be a better choice.
6. First check-up and hospital affiliation
Check with the potential pediatrician if they can be available at the hospital for the initial examination. Typically, to be present at the hospital during your delivery, the pediatrician must be affiliated with the hospital. The newborn baby could be examined anytime in the first 24 hours if the birth is normal. However, complicated deliveries may require immediate intervention (4).
If you have picked a pediatrician and do not wish to change, you may explore their affiliated hospitals. If the hospital is a multi-specialty one, you may consider planning your delivery at the hospital. It will ensure your newborn has immediate access to a pediatrician of your choice.
7. Credentials and experience
It is good to select a pediatrician certified by an independent board or academy, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. Board certification is not mandatory, and pediatricians may attain it as per their discretion. However, board or academy certification can indicate an extra layer of expertise since it is only attainable through the clearance of relevant examinations.
In many cases, a board certification indicates that the pediatrician has proven expertise in patient care, medical knowledge, communication skills, professionalism, and practice improvement, and knowledge about the medical system (5). Certified pediatricians often mention it next to their qualifications. For instance, a pediatrician certified by the American Academy of Pediatrics would mention Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics or FAAP among his/her titles or qualifications (6).
In addition to the qualifications, the experience of a pediatrician should also be a key consideration. Check for how long the pediatrician has been practicing and at what hospitals. You may also check if the pediatrician has expertise in specific conditions, such as congenital defects, and for how long.
8. Office timings and operations
Check if the style of doctor’s office operations suits your schedule and requirements. Seek answers to the following questions before choosing your pediatrician (4) (6).
- Do the office hours fit into your schedule? Are visits accepted in the evening or over the weekend?
- Do they take last-minute appointments? Are after-hour appointments taken at the office?
- Who fields the doctor’s calls? Does the doctor personally return all calls?
- Are routine questions answered by a nurse or the pediatrician? Who takes calls on vacations or when the office is closed?
- Is it a group practice? Will other doctors handle your case at times?
Since you and your child will be spending quite some time in the doctor’s office, you should feel at ease in the place (4). Check out the average waiting period and the seating arrangements. Ideally, ill patients should be seated away from the children who come for routine visits or vaccinations. See if there is a play area to keep your child occupied during the waiting period.
9. Phone- and internet-based facilities
There could be instances when you may be unable to visit the doctor with your child in person. In such cases, it could be helpful if the pediatrician offers consultation over the phone or the Internet. Check if the doctor has a dedicated phone number for telephone-based consultation or offers a video call facility with patients. If the doctor does offer these facilities, check how the process works and whether it is easy to use during emergencies (4).
10. Introductory visit experience
An introductory visit can help you understand if the pediatrician is the right fit for you. You can gauge your comfort level and confidence in their capabilities. It is also a great opportunity to share your concerns directly with the doctor. You may have a visit during your pregnancy or even after the birth of your baby.
Check if the pediatrician seems genuinely interested in any prospective or existing health concerns about your baby. All your queries should be addressed at length, and the doubts must be cleared. The behavior of the support staff can also communicate a great deal about the practice. Observe the demeanor of the doctor and support staff, such as nurses. Ask yourself the following questions (3).
- Do they spend adequate time understanding the problems faced by your child?
- Are they patient and empathetic? Does the doctor or a support staff member become exasperated when you ask too many questions or ask specific questions?
- Do they display professionalism and affability?
- Do they respect your opinions and choices related to your baby’s potential treatment?
11. Insurance covers and costs of care
While exploring a pediatrician, check if they accept your insurance plan. It is also important to understand the services covered and those exempted. It is good to know the official policy for processing the insurance forms. Going ahead with a pediatrician compatible with your insurance plan can reduce your expenses. However, do not compromise medical care and choose a qualified, experienced pediatrician.
The overall costs of care also need to be considered. Understand the consulting fees, hospital care charges, fees for home visits, routine visits, and immunization charges. Check if they charge more for after-hours consultations (4).
12. Additional services
Check if the pediatrician offers any additional services. Some clinics offer services such as laboratory tests, mental health consulting, and behavioral health coaching. Choosing a pediatrician that offers multiple services can be beneficial since it could help save time (2).
Questions To Ask A Potential Pediatrician
Besides the questions mentioned earlier, you may ask the following additional queries (2) (4).
- Where did they complete their graduation, post-graduation, and residency?
- What is their style or procedure for managing acute illnesses?
- What will be the role of your doctor in case of rare and complex illnesses that require consultation with several specialists? Will the pediatrician discuss and manage the care with the other doctors?
- What will be the schedule for check-ups and immunizations?
What To Expect From Your Pediatrician?
A pediatrician will see your baby multiple times. The initial check-up to check weight gain, feeding, and jaundice are done within the first 48-72 hours (4).
The pediatrician will again see the baby at 2-4 weeks of age. Subsequently, until the child reaches six months, the physician will see the child every two months. After this, the frequency will be slightly lower, with visits scheduled every three months until the child is one year old.
You may expect further examinations at fifteen months and eighteen months, followed by a check-up at 24 months old. Between 2-5 years of age, yearly examinations would be scheduled (4). Apart from these usual visits, you may make sick visits when needed.
During the first year, the physician will conduct the following examinations (7).
- Assessment of growth by checking the weight and height. The growth will be charted on a graph to understand if the baby’s growth is normal.
- Physical examination of various organs and body parts, such as the head, ears , eyes, mouth, heart, lungs, abdomen, genitalia, hips, and legs.
- Examination of baby’s reflexes, muscle tone, and general development. The normal developmental milestones will be discussed.
- Administration of the necessary vaccinations at the appropriate age.
What To Do If You Want To Switch Practitioners?
You may decide to switch your pediatrician for several reasons, such as shifting to a different location, excess wait time, problems scheduling an appointment, or discomfort with the doctor or the staff. Some issues might be sorted by speaking to the physician. However, if the problem persists, it is okay to move on. Collect the patient files of your child so that your new doctor knows the complete history.
How To Communicate Well With Your Pediatrician?
Effective communication is important to build a good rapport with your pediatrician and make the partnership rewarding. Here are few tips for communicating well with your pediatrician (8).
- If your child is unwell, note down all the signs and symptoms and communicate the same to the office while taking an appointment.
- Write down all your concerns and ask them during the visit. If you have several questions that cannot fit into one appointment, schedule a follow-up visit.
- Listen to the physician carefully to understand the issue and treatment at length. If you miss certain information points, request the physician to repeat them. Seek clarification if you do not understand any point.
- Always have a candid conversation with the pediatrician. Any issues with approach or communication should be raised directly but politely.
The pediatrician will play a significant role in your child’s life for a long time. Therefore, choose one after careful deliberation. A pediatrician’s approach to patient care for your child’s best health should be acceptable to you. Do not hesitate to go to a different doctor if you feel the current one does not seem right. Having a trusted pediatrician with whom you can freely discuss your concerns is critical for your child’s well-being.