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Choosing the right doctor for your baby is an important decision: You'll be visiting the doctor's office six times in the first year for routine well-baby visits alone. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the choice, but with a little homework and legwork, you should be able to find one you like and trust.
When should I begin my search for a doctor?
Some parents know which doctor or practice they want for their baby before they even conceive. But many start the search during pregnancy and arrive at a decision when they're seven or eight months along.
Making a decision well before labor and delivery allows for an informed, well-considered choice. It's a good idea to start compiling a list of candidates about four months before your due date.
What kind of practitioner should I look for?
Many parents take their baby to a pediatrician, a doctor who specializes in the care of children. Focusing on children's health and practicing with kids each day gives pediatricians a leg up when it comes to expertise on children's medical issues.
Other parents prefer a family practitioner, a doctor specializing in family medicine who can treat the whole family, from birth to old age. One advantage these parents point to is that the family practitioner should be well versed in health issues that pertain to your entire family (genetic diseases, for example).
Either type of doctor is fine, as long as you feel comfortable and confident about your child's care.
Prepare for your baby's doctor visit with our handy checklist.
Where can I get names of doctors to consider?
You can ask your obstetrician or midwife for recommendations, for starters. Hospitals, insurance companies, and medical schools also provide referrals to doctors.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers referrals to certified practitioners on its HealthyChildren.org website. Certification by the AAP means that the doctor has graduated from an accredited medical school, completed an accredited residency program, and passed the board exam in pediatrics.
And be sure to ask your local experts – friends, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers with kids who share your parenting philosophies and general outlook on life.
How will I know if a doctor recommended by someone else will be suitable for us?
People look for different things in doctors, and what's most important for you may not even be on someone else's radar. So rather than just gathering a list of names, try asking some probing questions of whoever makes the recommendation, such as:
- How does your child respond to the doctor?
- Does the doctor seem to enjoy working with children?
- Does the doctor seem to know about the latest medical advances?
- Does the doctor welcome questions?
- Does the doctor take time to discuss problems and listen to your concerns?
- If it's a group practice, do you know and like the other doctors?
- Is the office staff patient and helpful?
- How long do you usually have to wait?
- Is the waiting room pleasant and kid-friendly?
- Is parking plentiful and convenient?
- Is there anything you don't like or wish was different about your child's doctor or her practice?
The answers you get can help narrow your list to the handful of doctors you'd like to meet in person.
I have some promising candidates. Now what should I do?
Before going a step further, make sure all the doctors you're considering are taking on new patients and will accept your health insurance. And although this might seem unnecessarily cautious, it's wise to check with your state medical board to find out whether any doctor you're interested in has been disciplined for wrongdoing.
Next, look over your list and note which doctors have convenient locations and office hours. The best doctor in the city can lose her luster if her office is hard to get to (imagine driving at rush hour with a sick and miserable child).
The next step is visiting your top prospects at their offices. Only a face-to-face meeting will show you whether this doctor has the warmth, sensitivity, and professionalism you're seeking.
Most offices will accommodate your request for an interview with the doctor, although some practices charge for it. (If this is the case, find out ahead of time whether your insurance company will pay for the meeting. Some will if it's billed as an office visit.)
How do I interview a doctor?
Keep in mind — especially if you tend to feel intimidated by doctors — that you'll be hiring this person as a professional to provide care for your baby. Arrive with specific questions about the topics that are most important to you. Here are some questions to consider:
- Which hospital is the doctor affiliated with?
- Will the doctor (or someone else in the practice) see your newborn in the hospital or will the first contact be an office visit?
- Do the doctor's hours suit your schedule? You might prefer one who works certain days of the week or who offers evening or Saturday-morning hours.
- How does the office handle telephone inquiries? Does it set aside specific times for parents to call in with questions or is there an open advice line during office hours? And if staff members handle the inquiries, do they dispense their own advice or relay the doctor's?
- Does the doctor accept and answer questions by email?
- How long does it take to get a non-emergency appointment with the doctor?
- How are appointments handled for children who are sick? Is there good chance your child will get to see his own doctor?
- Are there separate well-baby and sick-baby waiting rooms?
- Is the staff warm and helpful?
- How do you reach the doctor if your child gets sick after hours? When your doctor is not on call, who covers? (Some doctors send patients to urgent care clinics, for example, while others will meet you at the office even at night.)
- Does the doctor have a subspecialty or an area of interest?
- How does the practice handle payments, billing, laboratory charges, and insurance claims?
- Do you and the doctor have similar views on topics such as circumcision, breastfeeding, immunizations, alternative medicine, and parenting issues such as attachment parenting, co-sleeping, single parenthood, and daycare? If not, is the doctor open to – and supportive of – other opinions and approaches?
- Pay attention to such intangibles as the doctor's style. Do you want a doctor who offers choices and lets you decide which one works best for you — or would you be more comfortable with one who gives a lot of direction?
- Take note of the overall atmosphere of the office. Is it clean, warm, and inviting?
- Was parking a problem?
How will my child's doctor know I've delivered my baby?
The hospital will ask you for your doctor's name when you check in, and many hospitals notify the doctor when your baby's born. Some doctors visit newborns in the hospital (or send another doctor from the practice) while others won't see you until you bring your baby in for the first office visit.
In many instances, the hospital's pediatrician will take care of newborns until they're discharged — either instead of or in addition to the babies' own doctors.
What should I do if I'm not entirely happy with the doctor I choose?
Talk to the doctor about your concerns. As uncomfortable as it may feel, if the problem can't be resolved or your worries aren't addressed, don't hesitate to change doctors. You need to have a doctor you can count on and communicate with when it comes to your baby's health.