From the day you learn you're pregnant, you make decisions that last your child's lifetime — like the name you choose for your baby. To give your newborn the healthiest possible start, you'll want to find a pediatrician to care for your child from their first wellness visit through the teen years. Here are tips on how to find that doctor.
When Should I Start Looking for a Pediatrician?
It's a good idea to start looking for a doctor about 3 months before your baby is due. Ask for recommendations from relatives, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and doctors you know. Then, check your insurance company's website to see if the doctors are in your plan.
If you're new to an area, start by searching for pediatricians on your insurance company's website or try the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Find a Pediatrician tool.
Look at online reviews and ratings, but proceed with caution. Like all online sites, the reviewers' opinions and expectations may differ from yours. Make sure the review site only allows feedback from actual patients.
Of course, doctors aren't the only people in a pediatrics office who care for children. Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) also see young patients. They are trained to give shots, check kids for health problems, prescribe medicines — and do many of the things doctors can do.
Pediatrician or Family Physician: What's the Difference?
Most pediatricians and the nurses and physician assistants in their practices see children and teens up to age 21. Pediatric training focuses on treating children from birth until adulthood. Family physicians take care of patients of all ages, from kids to seniors.
Both have the same years of training, but pediatricians specialize in children. This give them in-depth understanding of children's health needs, like behavioral issues and how to care for a child's growing, developing body.
MD or DO: What's the Difference?
Pediatricians can graduate from medical school with either an MD (doctor of medicine) or a DO (doctor of osteopathy) degree. Both degrees train doctors to diagnose and treat diseases — and to try to prevent them when possible.
Programs for DOs usually focus on a holistic ("whole body") approach to medicine. MDs study medicine in the traditional way. All MDs and DOs must complete a residency — supervised hands-on training — before they are licensed to practice medicine.
Choosing a DO or MD is up to you. Both are equally qualified. But you do want to make sure that your child's pediatrician is board certified.
What Does "Board Certified" Mean?
At the end of their residency, doctors can take exams to be "board certified" in their field — in general pediatrics, for example, or in a pediatric specialty like orthopedics. These exams are set by the governing body in a field of medicine, like the AAP, and they're not easy to pass.
Interviewing Pediatricians: What Should I Ask?
Most pediatricians' offices set aside times for expectant parents to visit. Call the office to set up an appointment. During your "meet and greet," you can tour the office and talk with a doctor or nurse.
Some doctors offer group classes for expectant parents to learn about the practice and discuss newborn care. Others offer one-on-one interviews. Many insurance companies encourage these prenatal appointments or classes and will cover their cost. But check first with the doctor's office and your health plan.
Here are some things to consider as you decide if the practice is right for your family. Make a list of your questions to help you organize your thoughts.
- What are the office hours? Make sure the schedule works for you. For example, you may prefer a doctor who offers weekend and evening hours.
- Does the doctor work alone, or as part of a group? If it's a solo practice, how will your child get care when your doctor is not available? If it's a group practice, who will see your child if your doctor is not available?
- Is the doctor affiliated with a pediatric hospital if there's one in your area?
- How does the office handle phone calls?
- During office hours — Can you call in with questions for your doctor at fixed times? Many pediatric practices have a nurse on hand to answer questions.
- After hours — If you leave a message with the answering service, how quickly will you get a call back, either from a doctor or a nurse? Does the practice offer telemedicine where you can video visit with a pediatrician or nurse?
- Can you email your doctor? Does the practice use electronic medical records to make it easier to share your child's health information? Does the practice let you view your child's test results and get health information online?
- If your child has an emergency, will the doctor handle it, or will your child be referred to an emergency room or urgent care center?
- How much do services cost? Must you pay in full at the time of the visit, or can you pay over time?
- If other care is needed, how does the practice decide whether to refer your child to a specialist?
- What are the office's vaccination policies? Are all patients required to be vaccinated on the immunization schedule of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?
- If you haven't yet had your baby, will your doctor come to the hospital when you deliver to examine your newborn?
Besides allowing you to ask questions like these, your visit is a great time to see how the office runs. Is the waiting area clean and child-friendly? Is the staff polite and helpful to patients in the waiting room and to people on the phone?
While you're waiting, talk to the other parents. Ask them what they like best about the practice and why they feel good about the care the doctor provides.
Is This Doctor a Good Fit for Me?
After you've had a chance to talk with the doctor and other members of the care team, do you feel you will work well together? Is the doctor willing to explain things carefully? Does the doctor seem to be a good listener? Will you be comfortable asking questions? Do you think the doctor would mind if you wanted to get a second opinion?
Do you and your doctor share beliefs about issues that are important to you? For example, how does the doctor feel about circumcision? Breastfeeding? Alternative or integrative medicines or techniques? Use of antibiotics and other medicines? Remember that the doctor may be seeing your child for years to come.
Keep your notes about the doctors you didn't select. If your insurance changes, you may find yourself looking for a new doctor. Or it may take a while to find a doctor you're happy with.
Choosing a health care provider before your baby is born will help you feel confident about your baby's care. Knowing you have chosen the right doctor will help you feel calmer and more in control.