Before my baby was born we chose one of the hospital's pediatricians that we thought we'd be using long-term. But after we had the baby we realized we wanted a doctor much closer to where we lived so we started going to the pediatrician in town. I don't really like him.
We're going to start looking for a new pediatrician and I didn't know where to begin. I consulted JJ Levenstein, M.D., FAAP, a mom and a pediatrician on what questions to ask a prospective health care provider. Here's what she told me. I hope you find it helpful if you're in the market for a new doctor too.
What's the difference between a pediatrician and a family practice physician?
"A pediatrician spends her entire internship and residency focusing on the development, growth, illnesses and needs of the child from birth until 21. All training is focused on being an infant/child/adolescent specialist. A family practice doctor trains for the same length of time, and cares for all individuals from birth until death."
Is one a better choice than the other in caring for children?
"Depending on who is in your community, you may not have a choice. For a child who is generally healthy, either specialist is great. However, if your child has special needs, is chronically ill or has other medical problems, his needs might be better served with a pediatrician, as more focus and time in training is spent on the recognition and care of complex illness. The hardest part for pediatricians is having to say goodbye to our patients once at the age of majority. Family practice doctors, on the other hand, have the luxury and privilege of continuing to care for their patients for life! Clearly there are advantages and disadvantages to both specialties, but my advice is to choose the doctor with whom you trust to meet your child’s needs in a knowledgeable and compassionate way. Your child’s doctor should also be one with whom you can speak freely and easily, while not feeling intimidated or lessened in your role as your child’s advocate."
If I'm looking for a new doctor, is there anything I need to know about the interview?
"Parents can get a head start learning about a prospective pediatrician from his or her Web site, but you should schedule an interview to ask specific questions. If you set up an interview, first call to learn whether a pediatrician charges a fee to meet with you and if he or she conducts group interviews."
What questions should I ask during the interview?
"Here are a few important questions to ask before making your choice:
1. Practice philosophy. Discuss whether your pediatrician supports your stances on feeding, vaccinations, diet, sleep training, etc.
2. Insurances accepted and payment policies. Find out 1) if your child’s doctor takes insurance, and 2) if your child’s doctor takes your insurance. If he doesn’t, inquire about the payment policy.
3. Office hours/on call. As a new parent, it’s likely you’ll have questions or concerns during times that fall outside of normal business hours. Determine who is in the office and when, as well as how emergencies are handled on nights and weekends—and by whom. Also, know the availability of after hours care, and whether there is pediatric urgent care for night/weekend issues, or an ER or a children’s hospital nearby.
4. Pediatrician availability. Especially if you’re a working parent with limited time, it’s important to know how many days a week your pediatrician is available. Beyond that, what are the preferred (and best) ways to reach them—only in the office, via e-mail or by phone?
5. Appointments. Learn whether it’s easy to make appointments, how long they typically last and what happens during a standard appointment. Also, will you always see your own pediatrician or her associates?
6. Hospital visits. Know whether your pediatrician comes to the hospital. If she does, how often does she visit? For example, if your baby will be circumcised, will your pediatrician or OB perform the procedure? Also, ask how often your pediatrician will see your baby after birth.
7. Staff experience. Determine how experienced a pediatrician’s office staff is by asking who will field your questions. Will it be a medical assistant, a nurse, a pediatric nurse practitioner (PNP), a physician assistant (PA) or the pediatrician herself?
8. Office cleanliness and child friendliness. Make sure a pediatrician’s office is well kept, that the staff is helpful and accommodating, and that the environment is child friendly."
How did you choose your pediatrician? Are you happy with your choice?