Identifying a doc for your child takes a little legwork and some in-person interviewing. Here, Drs. Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet Oz, bestselling authors of YOU: Raising Your Child, provide everything you need to know about finding a pediatrician.
We’re sure there are millions of ways you could find a pediatrician. There’s the ol’ finger-in-the-phone book trick. Or you could just choose the neighborhood pediatrician’s office because it’s five minutes away from your home — which can be a great choice if that doc and you share the same views on health and wellness. But if the neighborhood doc seems more like Cruella De Vil, not such a good move. Or maybe you just pick the one that Aunt Joanie used two decades ago, hoping that he kept up with his CMEs (continuing medical education, in doc lingo). Sometimes, but not all the time, the easy way to go isn’t always the smart way to go.
That’s especially true when it comes to identifying a doc for your child. It may take a little legwork and even some in‑person interviewing to find a doctor who matches your approach to parenting and health. But once you ID a doctor that you like, you’ll realize that the prep work was well worth it. And besides, sometimes it really is easy, especially if you live in a medically saturated area, or if you already know and trust the judgment of several parents near you.
So whether you live in rural Iowa or midtown Manhattan, how do you begin?
Step 1: Identify which docs are in your insurance company’s network. That will automatically narrow the list.
Step 2: Scour your area for recommendations — from families with kids a little older than yours, neighbors, anybody you or your partner works with who has ties to the health care field. Which names keep popping to the tip of people’s tongues? And do the folks recommending them share your approach to parenting and health care? Those docs should make your short list. If your situation is special (special needs, multiples, international adoption, and so on), you may want to focus your search on those with specialized expertise if they’re available in your community.
Step 3: Take that short list and do a little online investigating. Start with a basic Google search to check out a hospital page or an online bio. You may happen upon affiliations with local organizations or charities, which is a positive sign. Other good sites include:
- The American Board of Medical Specialties (www.abms.org), to make sure that the doc is board certified and specializes in the area you want, like pediatrics or family medicine. In some areas, the family practice doc may be the most knowledgeable for the whole family but keep in mind that family practice training only includes three months of training in pediatrics, compared to three full years for the pediatrician.
- The Federation of State Medical Boards (www.fsmb.org), to see if the doc has had any serious disciplinary action against him or her. In most states, the information is free and public.
- The Joint Commission (www.jointcommission.org), a private, nonprofit organization that leads the way in patient safety and health care quality. You can check any health care organization that the doctor is affiliated with to see if it gets a Gold Seal of Approval, denoting that it complies with rigorous safety standards.
Step 4: Once you’ve narrowed the list to the few pediatricians that you like, based on info gathered from the three previous steps, it’s time to turn to in‑person investigation. Most pediatricians routinely offer consultations — either prenatally or at a later stage in the game — to allow you to see if they are a good fit for you. Meet with your top choices and ask them (and their office staff and colleagues) about their views on breast feeding versus formula, child-rearing principles, and other topics that could be important to you. But also ask about how their offices work. Your goal is to find someone whose principles, temperament, and logistics agree with yours. Often, the doctors whose names keep coming up as the town favorites are no longer taking new patients. You have to decide if you want to try to pull out the connections, beg, or possibly look for someone else in the same practice. Below we’re going to suggest some good questions you may ask, but we’re not going to give you the answers, because there are often no “right” answers. Ultimately, you have to be the one to determine whether the answers the doc gives you feel right to you, so you can make your own decision.
Now, the funny thing about pediatricians isn’t the fact that they have limitless Elmo bandages, it’s the fact that there can be as many differences in docs as there are in musicians. Every doc conducts his or her medical orchestra in his or her own way. You’d think that kid ailments are all pretty standard in how they’re treated. But the differences, well, make a difference. You’ll find that some pediatricians take an aggressive, high-tech approach, wanting to treat every symptom, while others are more mellow and take a watch-and-wait approach to nonurgent issues. Some will answer email; others will not. Some are open to complementary medicine; others aren’t.
Some are willing to modify the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) vaccination schedule, while others insist on following it to the letter.
Ultimately, your goal during the doc interview is to feel a connection on a personal level. You’re trusting this person to care for your little chickadee, and you want to feel that the doc is warm, smart, and really cares for kids — especially your kid. It may be important to you that she be a leader in the field; then again, brilliant with no bedside manner may not cut it for you. Since it’s a doc’s job to give advice, many dislike it when you don’t take the advice they give. For example, a pediatrician may say, “Absolutely no pacifiers!” If that’s something you cannot deal with, move on and find another doc.
In your interview, you can ask the office manager some of the basics; you should save the big-picture questions for the doc. Here are some questions you might consider:
Questions for Yourself
- Is the office convenient? Can you park right up front so you don’t have to lug the car seat a half mile? Or are the tolls more than the copay? In the first year, you’ll be visiting the pediatrician fairly often; hopefully less so after that.
- Is the office clean, cheerful, and comfortable, and does it have a separate sick-child waiting area? Or does it feel more like a tense courtroom awaiting a capital sentencing? Having a lot of toys is less relevant; we recommend bringing your own.
- Is the staff friendly? Or did you run into more than one Nurse Ratchet?
- Did the doctor and staff seem concerned, caring, and friendly? Or did you not even get to meet the doctor?
Questions for the Office Manager (If You Can’t Find the Information Online)
- Is the doc board certified? He should be proud enough to display the certificate.
- What is the doc’s education, training, and experience? How long has he been in practice?
- What hospital(s) is the doc affiliated with? Is it the best hospital for children in the area?
- Does the doctor accept your insurance? Does his hospital(s)?
- Is the doc a solo practitioner? If so, who covers on evenings and weekends or when the doctor is away? How does the physician covering for your doc learn about your child?
- Is the doctor part of a group? If so, will you visit your doctor exclusively, or will you see whoever is available (including, perhaps, a nurse practitioner)? Make sure to meet the partners or at least check their credentials.
- Does the doc have early morning, evening, and/or weekend hours to accommodate your schedule?
- Does the doc encourage email communication? Or maybe she wants u 2 text and is gr8 abt it?
- How long can you expect to wait for a response when you email or phone with a question? Is it within a day, or would a transatlantic cruise deliver a message faster?
- How long is the response time for after-hours questions?
- Does the doc use electronic prescriptions? Most will now, as they reduce dosage and drug errors (because the doc’s handwriting won’t be an issue).
- Does the pediatrician’s office have electronic medical records so that when Junior graduates from high school, his records are complete?
- Is this doc older than Methuselah and likely to retire before your child reaches kindergarten?
- Does the doc’s journal Pediatrics ever get read? By the doc? Or is it used as a coloring book in the waiting room?
Questions for the Doctor
- What is your attitude toward breast feeding versus bottle feeding? Most pediatricians will favor breast feeding, but if you choose to bottle feed, you don’t need a heavy dose of doc-laden guilt to add to your own parental worries.
- How do you treat ear infections? This is a good litmus test for how interventionist she may be: Some dispense antibiotics liberally, while others encourage you to watch and wait, as most suspected ear infections resolve themselves within three days.
- What are your views about various parenting preferences (such as cosleeping and circumcision)?
- What are your feelings about complementary medicine? Ask more specifically about herbal remedies. This does not determine whether the doc is good or bad, but rather how open minded she is to modalities that she may be uncomfortable with. You want someone whose sensibilities match yours.And this goes both ways: If you’ve joined the Anti-Reiki Revolution, then you do not want to pick a pediatrician who supports all things complementary with unquestionable faith. Or maybe there’s some middle ground that makes you and your doctor most comfortable.
- What is your standard protocol for vaccinations? What are your thoughts on the timing of vaccinations and the administration of optional vaccinations?
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Michael F. Roizen, M.D., is a four-time New York Times number one bestselling author, and is cofounder and originator of the very popular RealAge.com website. He is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute of the Cleveland Clinic and chief medical consultant of The Doctor Oz Show. Mehmet Oz, M.D., is also a New York Times number one best-selling author and Emmy Award-winning host of The Dr. Oz Show. He is professor and vice chairman of surgery at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and the director of the Heart Institute. They are the authors of YOU: Raising Your Child (Copyright © 2010 by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Oz Works, LLC).
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