Momma Manual: Top 10 pediatrician picking pointers
Momma Manual: Top 10 pediatrician picking pointers
Whether you have just learned you’re pregnant, or already have a few youngsters running around, one thing we can all agree on is that picking your child’s pediatrician may be the single most important health-related decision you ever make as a mom. After all, this is the individual you are entrusting to supervise your child’s health and wellness from birth to the age of 18. This person will walk with you in those precious first moments of life. He/she will make recommendations regarding vaccinations, medications and other potentially lifesaving care. He/she will nurture and care for your child during times of sickness and rejoice with you in times of good health.
But that feels like a lot of pressure, right? I mean, wow. You’ve just selected an OB/GYN, a delivery hospital, a crib, a booger sucking bulb syringe, a tummy time mat and the infamous going home the hospital outfit. And now you have to add another decision to your seemingly neverending checklist?
Have no fear. The hope with this post is to provide you a handy dandy checklist to take all the guesswork and stress out of making this call. When making this ever-important decision, I would recommend doing a quick search to discover all of the options in your close vicinity. Jot down names of particular interest to you. Next, seek referrals from other parents. Compile a list of pediatricians receiving high marks from other moms. After you feel that you have a solid list of vetted candidates, narrow it down to the top two or three. Make an appointment with these individuals to see for yourself which one you feel is best suited for your family. All reputable pediatricians welcome “new-parent” appointments and consider them standard practice. If you call one to set up a meeting and he/she declines, that might be your first clue that they are not the one for your child!
OK. So, you’ve done your homework. You’ve picked a few candidates to research a little further. What do you do once you’ve scheduled a call or quick visit with them? Consider the criteria below as your stress-free cheatsheet guide of conversation topics to refer to during your time together (in no particular order because arguably they are all equally important):
(1) Office Hours – When is he/she available to see your child? Do they provide any after-hour appointments for working parents or parents who desire extended scheduling opportunities? A growing number of practices are open at least for a few hours on the weekends for sick visits. Some offices even offer well visit checks during certain weekend hours, which is particularly helpful for parents who are unable to step away from obligations/responsibilities during the week, but wish to attend doctor visits with their child. If the doctor is only open from 8:00-5:00 Monday through Friday, I would think about how those restrictions could potentially affect your family. Unfortunately, your precious little one’s sicknesses will not always fall within that time frame. Most doctors are offering a few appointments throughout the weekend now and even offer later hours during the week to meet the needs of a wider range of families.
(2) On-call Nurse Assistance – It never fails that the moment you need the doctor is 6:37 p.m. on a Saturday night moments after kickoff of the state’s biggest football game. Not shockingly, you won’t find many doctors chilling in their offices in those random moments. On a few occasions, my daughters have run high fevers late at night or even very early in the morning. Understandably, you probably aren’t jazzed about hanging out in the waiting room of the local children’s hospital for hours just to be told that little Junior is suffering from the common cold. And this is exactly why you will want to track down a pediatrician’s office that offers a 24-7 nurse on call. This service is outstanding because you simply call the regular office phone number at any hour of the day and you can be connected to a nurse who can answer any question you may have and even schedule an appointment if necessary. Trust me, when your child is sick – especially in those first few years of life – you will visit panic mode quite a few times. Knowing that you have a nurse waiting to offer you immediate assistance no matter the time of day is incredibly reassuring.
(3) Well Entrance vs. Sick Entrance – Imagine taking your child to the doctor for a well visit and being forced to sit next to a sneezing, coughing, snotty-nosed kid for 30 minutes while you wait to be called back. Not cool. What’s the point of taking your healthy child for a well visit if he/she leaves sick each time from sitting in the waiting room with those feeling under the weather?!? Well clinics vs. sick clinics is a huge discussion/trend amongst pediatricians. In fact, I would argue it’s becoming the industry norm. This is not a complete deal-breaker, but I would weigh the repercussions of sitting next to Flu-filled Felicia in your mind when making this important pediatrician picking decision.
(4) Office Visit Wait Time – This topic can stir up all kinds of drama – but trust me when I say, this may be one of the most important factors in your decision, Momma. When your child is sick, haste is key in solving the problem and steering towards a safe solution. How much time you spend (or waste in some instances) in a waiting room is a factor worth calculating. A few questions you will want answered related to office visit wait time: How long do patients typically wait on average to see the doctor for well visits? For sick visits? Some doctors are so popular that their waiting rooms are filled to the brim daily with overwhelmed mommas and tired toddlers. This can be a drawback if you want efficient service. Make sure to inquire with other families about appointment wait time.
First and foremost, the care of every child in the office is equally imperative. There are bound to be moments with every pediatrician where his/her timing is off due to a special need with a patient or circumstances outside of his/her control. These are instances that cannot be avoided. On the flip side, there are also habitual offenders of the “sit in the waiting room for forever” phenomenon. As a human being, I strive to respect the time of others. I may not always be early to the party, but I try really hard not to be late. Using similar logic, it’s important for medical professionals to respect the time of their patients as well. Nothing burns me up worse than hearing discussions of goat cheese appetizers going on in the hallway when my child has been vomiting in my hands for 47.5 minutes … and counting. My best advice for tackling this factor is to ask current patients. Ask them what the average wait time is for a sick visit is vs. the average wait time for a well visit. For point of reference, our pediatrician’s wait time is equal for both types of visits – which I would argue is outstanding. Especially since he has a track record of under 20 minutes for both! Once you’ve asked around with current patients, there’s no shame in the game of broaching the topic with your prospective medical professional as well – after all, you are interviewing this individual to care for your child for the next 18 years of their life.
(5) Medicine Philosophy – in a world where “organic” and “natural” have become more than just trends, how does your doctor feel about prescribing medicine? Is he/she opposed to antibiotics? Does he/she encourage to provide over-the-counter pain medication such as Tylenol if baby has a fever or allow the fever to break naturally? What are the doctor’s thoughts on vaccinations and other forms of preventative medicine? Do his / her philosophies comport with your views as the parent? Nowadays this discussion is imperative. If the plan presented does not suit you, you will want to know that ahead of time.
(6) Affiliation with a local hospital – God forbid your child ever need the assistance of emergency medical care or extended medical treatment. However, to assist you in those times of extra need, many pediatricians have relationships with local hospitals to make these instances less frustrating for the parents and physicians. I would recommend asking if they have an affiliation with a local hospital. If not, why not? If they do, inquire regarding the admission process and if you need to place a call to your pediatrician’s office prior to arriving at the hospital. You may think this is overbearing, but there are even physicians who can get you in to see a hospital doctor much quicker by simply making a call on your child’s behalf. At 4 am when you are struggling for sanity, you are going to want to have this information handy.
(7) Available network and relationships with various specialists – When my second daughter was born, she had some hearing related issues – or so we thought based on her initial hearing tests. Thankfully, our pediatrician had a connection with one of the best audiologists in town and we were seen the day she left the labor and delivery wing. Being well connected is imperative in any profession, but particularly attractive for a pediatrician. Referrals are made daily in pediatric offices. Having an established relationship with teams of specialists in place can make the transition to more intensive medical care much less stressful for the child and the parent. Plus, answers received today are much more helpful than waiting weeks just to get in to visit with a specialist. At the very least, your pediatrician should be willing to provide you a list of several specialists in case you ever need one.
(8) Experience – No offense to Doogie Howser … I’m sure he was incredible. Experience is key. There is really no hard and fast rule regarding experience. But logic tells you that a doctor who has been practicing for several years will likely have seen an untold amount of unique illnesses and become much more targeted when delivering diagnoses. My suggestion would be to inquire about years in the field, any specialties or extra degrees, etc. Again, age is not necessarily a defining characteristic here, but I stand by the notion that experience is key.
(9) Reputation in the community – You will most likely have to rely on word-of-mouth, online reviews and accolades received for this item on the list. Google has made it easier than ever to discover whatever you want to know about perfect strangers. I suggest spending some time researching your doctor’s reputation online first. If you notice several reviews complaining about customer service, rudeness, tardiness, etc. I would weigh that heavily when making your decision. Many physicians even have public social media accounts. Take a second to give them a gander if that type of personal information is important to you as well. Second, reach out to local moms and particularly current patients of the physician for a firsthand report.
Another aspect related to reputation is the friendliness/understanding of the staff and nurses. When you enter the office, are you greeted with a smiling face? Do you feel that the nurses are nurturing and patient with you and your child? You will spend much more time with the nurses and staff over the years, so it’s important to value each of them as a partner in your child’s health journey – and to treat them with that level of respect as well!
(10) Bedside Manner – Bedside manner will matter to you, I promise. I want my children to grow to love the doctor, develop a level of trust and never fear visiting his office. Understandably, children grow very leery of the doctor after the first round of shots or swab of the throat. A really kind doctor knows how to set a child at ease and even foster a friendship with the child over the years. Here are a few questions to consider for this category:
– Does the doctor seem warm when approached?
– Is he/she easy to talk with? Does he/she seem distracted or disinterested in your conversation?
– Does the doctor interact freely with patients?
– How does he/she treat the staff and nurses?
– Does he/she offer affirmation or even a small treat for soothing or good behavior?
– Is he/she funny or at least willing to carry on light-hearted conversation?
– Does he/she use words that are only found in textbooks?
– Does he/she seem to truly care about the health and wellness of his patients?
The goal for both the patient/patient’s family and the doctor is to develop a trusting professional partnership backed by active participation and mutual respect.
This list may seem overwhelming at first glance, but when considering the medical care provider for your child, researching these important factors beforehand will protect you fro a great deal of regret later down the road. Consider this just like you would an interview for a caretaker for your child. After all, this individual will be providing some of the most important care your child will receive outside your home.
In closing, know that even if at first you choose the wrong “fit,” you can always fix it! Your child’s health and wellness should always be a top priority, so I hope you feel empowered to make the best choice for your family.