Choosing a Good Pediatrician

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Do your homework when you select a pediatrician for your family and your kids will be in good hands for years to come.

Selecting a pediatrician for your kids who has the right blend of professional qualifications and personal characteristics is important, but to get the best care possible, you also need to be able to trust and confide in the doctor. There are a number of considerations to keep in mind as you identify a pediatrician to be your child’s primary care provider. Finding the right pediatrician for your child means you’ve found someone with an interest in you and your children. Take the time to interview as many doctors as necessary until you are satisfied you have found the right fit.

Use Your Instincts

There’s a gut-level judgment to be made when selecting a pediatrician for your baby. At your initial meeting discern your comfort level. If the doctor condescends to you, or if you are given an “I’m-too-busy-to-answer-your-questions” feeling, it is time to move on. Do keep in mind that many doctors keep late hours, and keep in mind that many doctors have sub specialties that keep them busy. Trusting your baby’s doctor is important, and you need to feel that he trusts you as well. When your instincts tell you that you have found the right one, then satisfy yourself that the pediatrician has the training, experience and commitment to care for your baby.

Availability

Find out what hours your potential pediatrician offers. If both parents work, weekend hours might be helpful. Look into how the doctor handles after-hour emergencies. Does he have admitting privileges at your hospital of choice? And, if you call about a concern for your child, will he answer or will you only get to leave a message?

Determine Your Needs

To find the best fit for your child, consider the services covered by your health insurance plan. Depending on your health plan, your choices may be limited. Ask yourself what kinds of services you want. Do you need a nurse line for easy access to fast answers? Do you want to be able to make appointments in the evening or on the weekends? What about emergency care? An in-office lab? Finally, don’t forget about location. Some parents prefer their child’s doctor to be close to school or work rather than close to home, and while some parents are willing to drive great distances to see a valued doctor, it is important to consider emergencies, too. Does your doctor practice at your local hospital? If not, where’s the closest hospital at which the doctor has privileges?

The Final Cut

Whittle your pediatrician choices down to a few final factors: Ask for recommendations. Ask friends, relatives and co-workers for referrals. Who do they recommend and why? What have their experiences been with the doctor? Are there any doctors they suggest you avoid? If you find a doctor you like, be sure to speak with someone else who uses him. Next, meet the staff. Do you feel a rapport with them? Do they make an effort to provide an optimal experience for you? Do you like the environment? Do you feel they have time for you or are they hurrying you along? Finally, remember that your final choice of pediatrician is not irrevocable. If at any time you become dissatisfied, you can always start looking for another Dr. Right.


When your child outgrows the toddler-friendly pediatrician’s waiting room and starts to have teen-related medical issues, it may be time to switch to a new doctor.

changing to a general practioner

If your child no longer feels comfortable visiting a pediatrician’s office, it might be time to find a new doctor. Many families will stay with their pediatrician through the baby and early childhood years, when frequent well-child check-ups and immunizations mean regular visits. The years between ages 8 and 11 are usually fairly quiet, medically. Around age 11, the child needs additional immunizations. At that point, some families decide to change physicians. Of course, if your child starts off being seen by a family-practice doctor, that doctor can remain his doctor indefinitely. “Reasons to change doctors typically include sexual activity and pregnancy,” says Lea Ann Lund, M.D., of Tennessee Pediatrics in Hendersonville. “Females most commonly don’t feel comfortable getting Pap smears and STD screening from their pediatrician. Also, having chronic adult issues such as hypertension, heart disease or type 2 diabetes can call for a change in doctors. However, all pediatricians are trained in these issues.” Lund suggests that children stay with their pediatrician until either the age of 18 years, completion of their first year of college or begins to have “adult” type issues. “Some practices carry patients through age 21 or through college, but this is not typical,” adds Lund. Your pediatrician has dealt with this natural transition to a new doctor many times and can often recommend a doctor who would be an excellent fit for your child. When we left our pediatrician, I called first and then wrote a letter requesting my son’s medical records while expressing my family’s thanks for all the wonderful years of care our doctor provided. Was it easy to say goodbye? No. But it helps to look at it like you would a school graduation. Your child is making a normal transition to a new phase in his life.

 


what type of doctor?

  • Family-practice doctors. These physicians treat the entire family, from babies through adults, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians (www.aafp.org/online/en/home.html). They are familiar with the challenges of the teen years, and they can perform Pap smears and pelvic exams
  • Adolescent-medicine specialists. The main difference between these doctors and internal-medicine specialists is that adolescent-medicine specialists are specifically trained in dealing with body-image, nutrition, sexuality, mental-health, substance-abuse and other issues that can be of particular concern during the teen years. Visit the Society for Adolescent Medicine’s Web site at www.adolescenthealth.org to learn more.

questions to ask

  • Will you work with my family’s insurance company?
  • Do you prefer that a parent be present, or not present, during examinations? Will my child have a chance to speak privately with you during appointments? What is your policy regarding patient confidentiality for minors regarding issues like birth control and STDs?

Kathy Sena is a freelance journalist who frequently covers kids' health. Visit her blog at www.parenttalktoday.com.

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