Choosing a pediatrician, particularly if it's your first baby, can be a daunting task. When do you start? What questions do you ask? How do you know if this is the best pediatrician for you and your family? (After all, your baby deserves the best.) We get it, we've been there, and we want to help. Here, everything you need to know about choosing a pediatrician.
1. Start Looking Now. It's a good idea to start looking halfway through your pregnancy, once your OB confirms that everything is going well. "If the baby is born early, you want to have someone to call," says Dr. Tanya Altmann, M.D., and author of Mommy Calls: Dr. Tanya Answers Parents' Top 101 Questions About Babies and Toddlers. Your baby will also be examined in the hospital within the first 24 hours of his or her life, so it's smart to have chosen a doctor before then. Typically, parents are asked who their pediatrician is when mom is admitted to the hospital, and the delivery nurse will phone him or her as soon as the baby is born. If you haven't yet found a doctor, a staff pediatrician at the hospital will examine your baby.
2. Get Recommendations From People You Trust. Ask friends or family members you trust for recommendations. But if you're among the first in your group to have a baby or you just moved, your OB is a great resource, as they refer expecting parents to pediatricians all the time. Some other places to look for recommendations on pediatricians in your area include: Angie's List; healthychildren.org, which is run by the American Academy of Pediatrics; and medical schools and hospitals, which can refer soon-to-be parents to reputable pediatricians.
3. Decide Whether You Want a Family Practitioner or a Pediatrician. Both are well-trained in clinical care, the main difference is that pediatricians focus on newborns through adults 20 years of age, while family practitioners care for patients of any age. It's worth noting that pediatricians have three extra years of training on babies, children, and teens -- the only patients they see. But your baby will be well-cared for by either professional.
4. Choose a Doctor Who Is Certified by the American Board of Pediatrics (AAP). After they've been practicing for a year, all pediatricians take the last step of the board exam, which makes them board-certified. When searching for a pediatrician, parents should look for the "FAAP" after a doctor's name, as it means that he or she is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and has passed specialty-certifying examinations by the AAP. To find a board-certified pediatrician near you, go to healthychildren.org.
5. Set Up an Interview. "Arrange an appointment by telephone and have both parents participate, if possible," says William B. Pittard III, M.D., and author of Well Child Care in Infancy: Promoting Readiness for Life. "It's kind of like finding a spouse -- when you find the right one, you know it." Most doctors should be willing to meet with you in person or at least over the phone. If he or she isn't, that could be a red flag -- is that someone who seems like they want your business? Remember you are hiring and paying this person; they should give you the service you expect.
6. Make Sure You're on the Same Page Regarding the "Big" Issues. There's no need to interrogate your little one's future doctor about every minute detail. But you shouldn't be afraid to inquire about the biggies:
- What hospital are you affiliated with?
- What is your stand on vaccines? Will you work with me if mine is different or I want to customize my vaccine schedule?
- Who will see my child for checkups -- you, a nurse, or another member of your staff?
- What is the office's protocol for children who are suddenly ill? Do you make house calls?
- Do you have a "sick" waiting room and a "well" waiting room?
- Do you accept insurance?
7. Do a Gut Check. The most important thing is that you feel comfortable with your child's pediatrician and how their practice runs. While parents want their child to be in the hands of someone who knows their stuff inside out, "the primary goal should be to find a provider with who's nonjudgmental; empathetic; and able to indicate to parents what they do and don't know, in order to establish trust," remarks Dr. Pittard.
8. Relax. Remember, you're not marrying your pediatrician. "Although it’s nice to have someone from birth to 18, you can always change," points out Dr. Altmann. If you find you're not happy with the first pediatrician you choose, by all means, find a new one.
What tips do you have on finding a pediatrician?
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