Selecting a health care provider is a personal choice. Choose a doctor you are confident will provide good care for your baby. Pediatricians are baby, child, and adolescent specialists, covering birth to age 18. Family Medicine Doctors and Health Care Providers, such as a Nurse Practitioner or Physician's Assistant, are also available to provide care for your child. The following is a list of things to consider when choosing a doctor.
Ask for recommendations. Ask your friends, neighbors, coworkers, or family members who live near you. Make sure that the people you ask have similar parenting styles. Who do they use? Are they happy with the office? Is the office organized? Does the staff call back in a timely fashion? Remember, these are opinions, and some people’s expectations may be higher or lower than yours. Poll as many people as possible to get a variety of opinions.
Check with another doctor for a referral. Check with your Primary Care Provider (PCP), obstetrics and gynecology doctor, or midwife for a referral. See if the names match any on the list provided by your friends or family.
It’s best to choose a doctor while you are pregnant, well before you deliver. Once you choose a candidate for your baby, if possible make a prenatal appointment to get your questions answered. If you have already had your baby or want to look into changing providers, schedule your next check-up with your baby’s new possible doctor.
Clarify any insurance matters before establishing care. What is the office policy concerning your insurance? What form of payment does the office take?
Ask for a summary of the doctor’s credentials. Many times these are located on the Internet via the office website. Find out how long the Health Care Provider has been practicing. Does the Provider have special interests in his or her area of expertise? Is the Health Care Provider a specialist in his or her area?
Check out the whole group. How many doctors are in the group? Do they usually try to schedule a baby with their regular doctor if asked? It is helpful to have one doctor or a small group of doctors who knows your baby well and who you feel you can trust with questions.
Evaluate the travel time to the office, as well as the ease of getting in and out of the building. Is there plenty of parking? Is the office easy to get to (imagine going in a stroller!)?
Evaluate the office. What did you think about the staff? Were they friendly and helpful? Does the waiting room seem appropriate for a young child?
What do you recommend for feeding, formula, or breastfeeding? There is no clear answer, except that we know breastfeeding is easier and helps reduce health risks. However, you want to choose a doctor who will be flexible enough to work with you if you decide to formula feed.
What are the office hours? It is best to hear at least 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. Some offices have evening and weekend hours, which may be helpful for a working parent.
Where do you send patients if they need to be seen during the middle of the night? Check to see if there is an Urgent Care Center or Emergency Department that your clinic refers to when closed. Similarly, you will want to know where your baby would go if admitted to the hospital.
How do you schedule sick visits? A good answer is “A sick baby who needs to be seen will be scheduled the same day or, if needed, may be referred to the Emergency Department.” Sick babies often can’t wait until the next day if all appointments are taken.
How do you handle after-hours calls? Does a doctor or nurse take the calls? What number do you call to reach them?
Do you have circumcision information? If you are pondering whether or not to circumcise, this will help you make an informed choice. Does the doctor circumcise? If not, how are you expected to arrange the circumcision?
Were you able to understand your communication with the doctor? If the medical language was too complex, did you feel comfortable asking for clarification? Did you feel that the doctor enjoys taking care of children?
Pediatricians specialize in children and are trained specifically to see newborns through the teen years. Care for your baby may also include excellent physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, and family medicine doctors. A family medicine doctor will often see the whole family, which may be very convenient if both parent and child are sick. If you choose not to go with a pediatrician, find out the age range for patients seen by your preferred health care provider.
If you are moving to a new city, ask your current doctor for a referral. If your doctor is unable to give you a referral or if you need further information to choose a doctor, your local county medical society or the American Academy of Pediatrics can give you a list of board-certified pediatricians in your area.