HealthCalling

7 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Pediatrician: Straight Talk from a Physician Mom

As a busy mom who has balanced family and a career in pediatrics for many years, I too understand the importance of having a physician I can trust. My daughter, Emme, has grown into a healthy and beautiful 19-year-old college student, but I can still remember when I was pregnant and trying to find the “right” pediatrician for her care.

In my role, I know a lot of exceptional pediatricians, but I started to observe them from the perspective of a parent, rather than a physician. Ultimately, I chose my daughter’s pediatrician, not necessarily because of his credentials, education or years of experience (although those are all important factors), but because of his temperament, his interaction with our family, and his alignment with my parenting style and medical treatment philosophy.

Choosing a pediatrician who is going to care for your child from birth to 18 is one of the most important decisions you’ll make for your little one. The process may seem daunting. Don’t agonize over trying to find “the best pediatrician on earth”—you’re simply looking for the best one for your child and family.

Of course, there are the basics you want to find out, like who your OB/GYN or other mom friends recommend, the pediatrician’s education and training, areas of interest or specialties, and whether your medical insurance is accepted. Here’s a helpful list of those basic questions you can ask.

But there are other important, and maybe less common, factors to keep in mind when choosing your pediatrician. I recommend parents call and schedule a time for a free, face-to-face “meet and greet” with the pediatrician, and then ask yourselves these seven important questions:

  1. Does the doctor respect your parenting style and medical care philosophy? Talk about your childcare and medical care philosophy as well as theirs. If they’re different, it’s OK as long as there is mutual respect. You want a pediatrician who is going to value your choices when it comes to topics such as use of medicines, vaccines, sleep habits, discipline issues, breastfeeding and circumcision.

    I’m someone who believes in following the recommended vaccine schedule, but I’m conservative when it comes to the use of antibiotics, and I wanted to safely observe Emme before giving her medicine. The pediatrician I chose respected my approach and allowed a safe “watch and see” period before prescribing antibiotics. If there hadn’t been trust between us, that might have been a very difficult conversation, but we were able to be partners in her health care.
  2. What is the doctor’s communication style and does it match yours? In the office, does the pediatrician make an effort to listen and ensure your questions are answered, and offer to provide a written clinical summary? You want a physician who is going to clearly explain illnesses and treatments in a way that you can understand. Also, find out the doctor’s policy on phone calls – if you call, will someone call you back within a certain time period, or is there a nurse who can answer questions? Can you reach the pediatrician through email, text or an electronic health record system?

    Kids aren’t always going to be sick and in need of medical intervention. A lot of pediatrics is about communication and counseling. It’s about well visits, milestones and preventative care, sprinkled in with some sick visits. So, I focus a lot on tailoring communication for the parents. If I’m prescribing something that takes multiple steps or medications, for example, I handwrite out each step and clearly explain it, then I have them repeat it back – I want to make sure the instructions are clear for the parent, grandparent, babysitter or any other caregiver. I also encourage my patients to sign up for our Patient Portal, which allows them to review patient charts online and send me a secure email message. It reduces a lot of “hold” time and phone tag.
  3. Is there access to 24/7 care, beyond the “regular office hours?” Children don’t just get sick during your pediatrician’s “normal office hours.” What happens if your pediatrician is on vacation or it’s a holiday and the doctor’s office is closed? When should you visit an urgent care or emergency room? It’s important to choose a pediatrician who has a clear plan in place for health care needs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

    At St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group, we offer a group pediatrician practice and have access to all patients’ medical records via our electronic health record system. This means if I’m not available and it’s normal business hours, there’s always another pediatrician in the group who can see my patients as well as access their medical chart. I can also access a chart or write or refill a prescription virtually using this same technology. If it’s after hours, parents can take their children to a pediatric urgent care or call a Nurse Advice Line. It comes down to having access to health care beyond your scheduled appointments.
  4. Which hospital is the doctor connected to? It’s important to know which hospital(s) your pediatrician is affiliated with in the event that your child needs specialized care or is admitted in an emergency situation. Physicians can only care for your child at designated hospitals. If you are picky—and you should be—about which hospital you’d want your child to receive specialty or inpatient care, you should ask your pediatrician where they have hospital privileges before choosing them as your pediatrician.
  1. What is your overall assessment of the pediatrician? Do you sense the pediatrician has a genuine interest in your child, and demonstrates compassion and patience? As a parent, are you given the time and attention you need, or do you feel rushed and not a priority? Think about how the pediatrician interacts with your child, and how your child responds. It has to be a good personality match between the physician and you and your child for this relationship to last.
  1. What do you think of the overall office and staff? When you come to your “meet and greet,” pay attention to your surroundings. Notice if the office staff smiles and makes eye contact. Pay attention to the wait time and whether the waiting room looks pleasant and kid-friendly. Make sure the bathrooms are clean and patient rooms are welcoming. Determine if the parking situation is convenient and safe. The whole process, from the time you arrive to the time you see your pediatrician in the exam room, should be a pleasant experience. You’ll likely spend a good amount of time visiting your pediatrician, especially when your children are young, so make sure it meets your comfort level and customer service expectations.
  1. What’s your gut telling you? Sometimes all it comes down to is whether you “click” with the physician. Maybe you are more comfortable with a pediatrician of a certain sex or age, or you’ll only trust someone who has children of his or her own. You may need someone who has a good sense of humor and isn’t so serious. The bond between parent and pediatrician is important, and you need to have confidence and be comfortable with the doctor.

The bottom line is you should choose a compassionate pediatrician that you and your child are comfortable with through the years. This is the person you'll want to call when your baby wakes up with a high fever and won’t stop crying; when your toddler refuses to eat vegetables; when your young child can’t stop wetting the bed or gets injured from a bad fall; and when your pre-teen starts to experience changes in puberty. A pediatrician should be a partner in caring for what matters most—our children.

Do you have other recommendations on how to choose the best pediatrician, or is there a pediatrician in your life you’d like to give a shout out to? Share your story below.

Read more about what Dr. Bartlett has to say in the following articles:

RELATED POSTS