Parents are bombarded with an avalanche of decisions.
Selecting a pediatrician is one of the more complex decisions.
While every phase of parenthood can be nerve-wracking, ensuring a baby's health in the first few years can be particularly stressful.
A group of veteran parents, all with at least five years experience, broke down finding the right doctor into two main focuses: determining the qualities to look for and how to execute the search. Here are their recommendations:
Qualities to seek in a pediatrician
1. Experience: Seek candidates with well-established practices. Also, look for doctors who have experience as a mother or father. When medical decisions get really tough, one of the most reassuring things you can hear from a doctor is, "I'm a mom/dad, too, and this is what I'd do for my son or daughter."
2. Accreditation: The American Academy of Pediatrics' website is full of useful information, including a search function to confirm a prospective doctor's accreditation. Give it look before choosing a pediatrician, and after if baby's health dictates.
3. Stability: Identifying candidates with a long-standing presence in a particular area is about all a parent can do. One word of caution: Pediatric "centers" – practices with numerous doctors – will experience turnover. The title of the practice might remain unchanged for years, but the doctors treating your children likely will not.
4. Accessibility: Dr. Right will be accessible, with same-day sick appointments, reasonable wait times, weekend coverage, be reachable by phone or email, and a patient portal for retrieving test results. Some of these may seem like option, but they're not. Think of them as air conditioning. Can you buy a car without it? Yes. Would you? No.
5. Communication: Find a pediatrician you can talk to and who is willing to patiently address any of your concerns. If you feel rushed during appointments or frequently leave with unanswered questions, seek a better option. Communication with the patient is also important. Does the doctor have a natural way with children (don't assume every pediatrician does)? Does the doctor put your at ease? A good bedside manner can change (for the better) your child's experience at the doctor's office.
Admittedly, that's a healthy list of demands – maybe even a bit intimidating. Chances are that some level of compromise will be part of the decision process.
How to find Dr. Right
1. Referrals: Most parents like to help other parents. So the opinions of other parents — perhaps current or former clients of pediatricians you are considering — are a great place to start, along with friends, family, neighbors, church or civic groups, school communities, or social media. If you're feeling bold, you could even approach parents outside of a doctor's office. Referrals can also be found through several common websites (such has healthgrades.com). However, WebMD cautions parents about the accuracy of the ratings and the tendency for a single negative rant to drown out hundreds of positive data points.
2. Interviews: An excellent way to determine if a pediatrician has the traits described above is to go right to the source and schedule a consultation. Virtually every job requires an interview, right?
3. Active observation: There's a lot going on in a pediatrician's waiting room. If your child is a first-time or relatively new patient, pay attention. What's the vibe? Observe how the doctor interacts with the staff and how the staff interacts with clients. Take note of how children are called back to the exam rooms. Are their names barked out or does the staff make the effort to smile and interact with the kids? Once in the exam room, watch the pediatrician in action and your child's non-verbal reactions. Make this an ongoing exercise.
Parents aren't wed to a pediatrician. What works today might not work in a few years. What works for one child might not work for another. Ultimately, don't be afraid to make a change if necessary. Healthcare isn't about routine, it's about getting it right.
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