By Tanni Haas, Ph.D.
What should you look for when you’re looking for a pediatrician? If you choose well, you’ll have a great physician for your kids for years to come. Based on my own experiences, as well as conversations with other parents, I’ve compiled a list of 9 important things to consider.
Evidence of credentials and experience. Make sure that whoever is on your list of candidates has the right qualifications. A copy of their medical school diploma, certificate in pediatrics, and license to practice should be made available by the office staff if you request it. Aside from checking their credentials, find out how long they’ve been in practice and where. Have they only worked in a private practice? Have they also worked in an urgent care facility or at a hospital? Experience in a variety of settings is a definite plus.
Solo or group practice. Another thing to consider is whether you prefer a pediatrician who works in a solo or a group practice. There are advantages and disadvantages to both options. In a solo practice, your kids are guaranteed to always get seen by their own doctor, but when s(he) is away you’re left stranded. In a group practice, your kids they may not always get seen by their own doctor, but they’re guaranteed to be seen by somebody.
Hospital affiliation(s). Check what hospital(s) the pediatrians you’re considering are affiliated with. If something happens to your kids, it’s reassuring to know that their pediatrician has admitting privileges to one or more of the best hospitals in the area, including the local children’s hospital.
Communication and philosophy of care. A good pediatrician knows how to interact with kids and adults alike. Your pediatrician should be warm and friendly and speak to your kids at their level. S(he) also should be a good listener and patiently respond to any questions or concerns you may have. Choosing the right pediatrician is also about finding someone who shares your philosophy of care. Make sure that your pediatrician agrees with you on such basic issues like breastfeeding and how long to do it, how to properly toilet train your kids, and under what circumstances your kids should be prescribed antibiotics.
Office staff, environment, and services. It’s important that the entire experience of going to see the pediatrician is pleasurable. The office staff should be courteous, and the waiting area should be clean and with some books and toys to entertain your kids as they wait to be seen. It’s also useful if the practice offers additional services like on-site lab work, X-rays and MRIs. Some pediatricians have lactation nurses on staff to help new mothers. Think about which services matter the most to you and ask the pediatrician if s(he) offers them.
Location, office hours, and appointments. One of the keys to finding the right pediatrician is availability. Finding the perfect pediatrician isn’t useful if s(he) isn’t available where and when you are. Look for someone whose office is conveniently located near your home, workplace, or your kids’ day care or school; ideally all three places so that you can get there quickly in an emergency. It’s also important that the pediatrician has evening and/or weekend hours and offer same-day appointments. Weekend hours are great even in a non-emergency. It’s much less stressful to take the kids to the pediatrician on a quiet Saturday morning than doing so in the late afternoon on a weekday after you’ve had a long day at work and you kids have been at day care or in school. When the office is closed, there should be an answering service that forwards your messages, and you should be able to email the pediatrician with any questions.
Excellent reviews. A good pediatrician will have excellent reviews whether you ask your friends, family members, colleagues, or your own physician for recommendations. But here’s the rub: don’t just ask people who they’d recommend, also ask WHY. Make sure that you share the same philosophy of care as the people you’re asking for recommendations; otherwise you could end up very disappointed. The same principle applies to online reviews: steer clear of simple thumbs-up-or-down recommendations. Instead, look instead for reviews that explain in detail what they like about certain pediatricians. Some of the most popular places to look for online reviews include Healthgrades, RateMDs, and ZocDoc.
Good insurance coverage. Medical care can be very expensive if you don’t have a good insurance plan. Ask the pediatricians you’re considering whether they accept your insurance plan and what, if anything, the co-pay is for the most common procedures.
A final piece of advice: Hold on to your notes about the pediatricians you didn’t select for one reason or another. If your insurance changes, you may find yourself looking for a new pediatrician, and it could take a while to find another one that’s right for your family.
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences & Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.
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