Being pregnant with a new baby is exciting and a little scary. Before your baby is born, you may feel overwhelmed with information and decisions that you need to make regarding their care. Figuring out who will be your child’s doctor is one of the most important decisions you need to make as a parent.
As a mom of three kids, I remember this process well. Before my twins were born, I met with a pediatrician and had a list of questions. A lot of people in my community used this doctor, and he answered all of my questions, but I didn’t really like his personality.
“When choosing a pediatrician, it’s important to trust your instinct,” says Dr. Ruby Dey, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente practicing in Columbia Gateway.
I overlooked this “red flag,” ignoring my instincts, and I decided to use him anyway. About six months later, my kids had two different issues that he didn’t address, so I switched doctors. Fortunately, my kids are all fine and thriving but hopefully, you won’t have to switch doctors like I did.
Here are some tips to help you find a doctor who is a good fit for you and your family.
Ask for Recommendations
If you are a new mom in a new community like I was, it may be difficult to find recommendations. Asking local mom groups who they use for a doctor is a great place to start your search. You can ask your own primary care doctor and OB-GYN for their recommendations, too.
“Ask around at your prenatal group, any nurses you know, people at your house of worship or clubs,” suggests Dr. Virginia Keane, an attending physician and the director of the Complex Primary Care Program at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore.
She explains that people love to talk about their pediatricians and will usually steer you in the right direction for who to interview. Your insurance company or the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website, which lists pediatricians by locale, are other great sources.
Hopefully, your child will not need to visit the doctor often, but when your child is sick or hurt, you don’t want to have to travel a long distance.
One time, my son was having trouble breathing due to pneumonia. My doctor’s office was only five minutes away and the physicians told me to bring him in immediately and they gave him a cortisone shot. He was breathing better within minutes, and I was grateful the practice was close to our house.
Doulas of Northern Virginia suggests considering the following questions in its “Guide to Choosing a Pediatrician.”
“If your baby’s doctor is not available, can they see other doctors in the practice? How can you contact your child’s doctor after hours or in an emergency? How soon are phone calls and electronic messages returned? Is there a nurse line?”
This is a tough one because I’ve dealt with experienced doctors that were so rigid that they misdiagnosed an issue. I’ve also seen new doctors that made mistakes because of their inexperience. But Dr. Dey says that being new to the field might not matter.
“Keep in mind that if a pediatrician doesn’t have much experience, they can consult with their more experienced peers if needed,” she says. “At Kaiser Permanente, our pediatricians are part of a large multispecialty practice with access to hundreds of experienced pediatricians and specialists.”
You might not be concerned about the length of time they have been practicing but you can make sure they are board-certified as a pediatrician by The American Board of Pediatrics.
Make sure to interview at least three different doctors to get a broad range of options. While you are there, you should pay attention to the waiting room, office and patients. Is it clean? Are there a lot of people waiting?
Here are some questions you could ask:
Why did you decide to be a pediatrician?
What hours do you work?
Am I able to see you the same day for a sick visit?
What if I need to see a specialist? How is that handled?
What hospitals are you affiliated with?
What if I disagree with your diagnosis? How would you respond?
What is your philosophy about vaccines, breastfeeding, antibiotics, counseling, discipline and medications?
What are the practice’s policies towards vaccination?
What is the availability of sick visit appointments?
How are the after-hours calls handled? Answering service, nurse call line?
What are the cancellation and no-show policies?
“Some pediatricians offer group meet-and-greets while others set up individual meetings or phone calls with expecting parents. While these aren’t meant to be interrogations or medical consultations, a good doctor will be willing and happy to answer your questions during this initial introduction,” notes Doulas of Northern Virginia’s guide.
Above all, don’t compromise on care, and remember that you can always switch providers.
“A good pediatric practice will function as a medical home, providing care that is comprehensive, patient centered, coordinated, easy to access and committed to quality and safety,” says Dr. Keane.
Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. She is married and is the mother of twins and a daughter. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, National Geographic, The Washington Post, Parents Magazine, AARP, Healthline, Your Teen Magazine and many other publications. She is a professional member of ASJA. You can find her at Twitter @CherylMaguire05