When deciding on a pediatrician for your child, there are a number of factors to take into consideration. First and foremost, do some initial research or ask for recommendations from local family and friends to see what options are available, in doing so, you might find there is only one pediatrician within a reasonable distance from your home. If possible, only consider pediatricians that are less than a 30-40 minute drive, walk, bus/subway ride from your home; the last thing you want to endure is traveling a long distance with a sick child. Regardless of the number of options you have, treat this decision like you would the purchase of a home, never buy the first one you see.
Before you do anything else, check out the credentials of the pediatricians you are interested in and secondly, make sure they take your insurance! Your baby will see the doctor a ton the first year, so it’s best to avoid going out of network if your circumstances allow it.
Now once you’ve scoped out the local pediatrician scene, call and register for new patient orientation with the practices you are most interested in. Keep in mind that most offices host orientations first thing in the morning or during evening hours, so be prepared to be flexible with your schedule. During the orientation, a doctor or nurse practitioner will provide you with some general information about the practice. For example, they might discuss their on-call procedures, hospital affiliation, philosophies, office hours, etc. I highly recommend attending an orientation session to get a feel for the doctor and hear what he or she discusses about the practice. (Bare in mind that you will likely only meet one doctor, not an entire team). Note: If your prospective office does not offer new patient orientations, ask to set up a quick meet and greet with the doctor, even if it needs to be done over the phone. We all require varying amounts of ‘hand-holding’ by our doctors, so in meeting one, you will quickly get a sense of how tightly they will allow you to hold on!
Once you’ve booked your orientation or appointment, write down any concerns or questions you have for the pediatrician, otherwise you will forget, trust me! I mentioned a few general points above, but below is a list of recommended topics for discussion:
- Vaccination policy and schedule (most pediatricians follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’s recommendations)
- Monday-Friday office hours
- Weekend hours (most practices do not have set schedules)
- After-hours call policy (smaller practices may partner up with another local office to cover after-hours, ask for details)
- General call-back time for non-emergencies (2 hours, end of day, 24 hours?)
- General wait time for appointments (this will vary depending on the season)
- Sick visits (how many designated slots a day, estimated general wait time)
- Affiliated hospital and sick visit policy
- Email policy (Does the practice accept emails from parents?)
- Tour of facility (Are there designated sick/newborn waiting areas?)
- Pediatrician’s philosophy (breastfeeding, sleep training, etc.)
My husband and I attended two orientations, one with a local well know pediatrician’s office with eight different locations (if you’ve read Bringing Up Bebe, the author interviews Michel Cohen the founder of the practice) and one with a smaller practice that was recommended. We visited the larger practice first and walked away feeling impressed, I actually said to my husband, “the next practice has to be something special to change my mind at this point”. We attended the second orientation to essentially check the box and ended up really liking that one as well. The credentials, insurance, and distance from our home were the same, so ultimately it came down to a difference in philosophies and our comfort level upon meeting the doctors from both practices; we decided to go with the smaller practice.
Choosing a pediatrician for your child is a very important decision, but remember that you can always change doctors if you are unhappy for any reason. With most normal pregnancies, it is impossible to anticipate the health needs of your child, so know that you are making this decision without the key ingredient – your baby!