A Realistic Checklist to Picking a Pediatrician
I still distinctly remember the rising anxiety I experienced throughout my first pregnancy as the deadline for choosing a pediatrician approached. My OB and the hospital both stressed how important it was – you can’t take the baby home unless you’ve chosen a pediatrician and made the first check-up appointment! And my friends all kept asking me about it – have you chosen your pediatrician yet? I know a great pediatrician…who is totally geographically inconvenient to you and doesn’t accept your insurance! You should chose them!
It felt, at the time, like choosing a pediatrician was my very first major decision as a parent and thus my first opportunity to get it completely wrong.
I didn’t though, and neither will you. And there’s also the little-talked-about fact that if you choose a pediatrician and then later decide you don’t like that pediatrician, you are totally allowed to choose a DIFFERENT pediatrician. At any point, for any reason!
I ended up loving the first practice I chose, but not necessarily all of the doctors. I found a couple favorites and requested regular appointments with them, but was grateful the practice had enough staff to always have someone available for same-day sick visits.
Then I got pregnant for the third time and they dropped our insurance. I found what I thought was a similar practice and ended up HATING it. (They repeatedly missed a somewhat serious infection my middle child had, and were very pushy about sleep training via full-on CIO when my youngest was only 12 weeks old, which nah, sorry) I stuck with them for about a year, at which point our insurance changed and I went running back to practice number one.
And now we’ve moved. And I am once again looking for a pediatrician.
Luckily, while moving your child/children from one practice to another is a bit of a paperwork pain, I at least feel like now I know what to look for, what questions to ask…and am relaxed enough to know that if I later find it’s not a good fit for whatever reason, it’s not the end of the world to switch things up again. Questions to ask and things to consider:
Do they accept your insurance?
Are they accepting new patients?
Do they offer a new patients’ orientation night or other introduction/overview of the practice where you can ask specific questions? (Excellent time to feel them out on sensitive topics like breast and bottle feeding, sleep training, vaccines, potty training, etc.)
Do they make rounds at the hospital where you plan to give birth? (Not a dealbreaker if they don’t, just know that the on-call pediatrician might not accept your insurance and you can incur extra charges for the in-hospital checks.)
Do they offer lactation services or recommend/work with a local lactation consultant?
Do they have a website? How useful/functional is it (i.e. can you make appointments online, fill out forms ahead of time, get OTC dosage charts, etc.)?
What’s the contact policy? Is a nurse available to answer basic health questions over the phone? Can you email with the doctor?
What are the same-day sick visit policies? How easy is it to get your child seen on short notice? Is there a separate entrance/waiting room for sick or contagious children?
How long can your child stay with the practice? (18, through college, etc.)
Do they offer flu or booster vaccines to parents?
What additional services/screenings do they offer? (Hearing/vision, developmental evaluations, Autism, ADHD, etc.)
Beyond these questions, remember to trust your instincts and first impressions of the practice and its staff. Does the front desk staff seem friendly and organized or kind of rude and frantic? Does the doctor seem to really listen you and make eye contact or does he/she start answering your question before you’ve even finished talking? And above all: Do you feel at ease in the office and in the doctor’s presence, or anxious and defensive?
What’s the number one thing you look for in a pediatrician or practice? What advice do you wish you could go back and give your own first-timer self?