Pediatricians are physicians who specialize in the medical care and treatment of children. They monitor their patients’ emotional, social, and physical development from birth through adolescence and up to the age of 21. Finding the right pediatrician takes time, energy, and research, but it is an important decision for parents to make.
Referrals from Other Physicians
One of the best sources for choosing a pediatrician is a referral from another physician. Obstetrician-gynecologists and their staff members can often help expectant parents in their search. Major medical centers, hospital networks, and community hospitals can provide lists of pediatricians that practice in the area. Families relocating to an unfamiliar area can obtain recommendations for potential physicians from their current pediatrician.
Recommendations from Others
Family, friends, and co-workers with children are more great sources for narrowing down a list of possible pediatricians. Online reviews and ratings can be helpful, but consider only those that provide feedback from patients. Social media parenting groups are a useful starting point for identifying popular local pediatric practices. They can also provide insight into the overall atmosphere, personalities, and policies of those practices.
Board Certification and Credentials
Certification from the American Board of Pediatrics shows that a physician has had specific and ongoing training covering all aspects of children’s health. It also indicates that they have passed a comprehensive examination covering the full spectrum of infant, child, and young adult health. These physicians have the designation of FAAP (Fellows of the American Academy of Pediatrics) after their name, along with any specializations. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) website provides an online tool to search for local board-certified pediatricians.
Medical Societies and Associations
Healthcare societies and associations are excellent sources for parents researching potential pediatricians. Local, county, and state medical societies can provide lists of accredited pediatricians in a geographic area and identify those accepting new patients.
In some cases, the pediatrician will refer a child to a colleague, such as a pediatric cardiologist or neurologist — physicians who have extended training for treating a specific disease or condition. If the pediatrician does not provide a referral, parents can usually find a specialist through their health system or a pediatric hospital.
Location and Hours
In addition to a pediatrician’s qualifications, consider convenience. Finding a practice that is close to home or work and offers reasonable office hours makes life easier. Look for pediatricians who accommodate same-day appointments for illnesses. They should also provide phone numbers and online messaging portals for after-hour or weekend emergency calls and communications. Telehealth visits are a popular and convenient service that more and more pediatricians are starting to provide.
For parents who prefer to develop a personal rapport with their child’s pediatrician, smaller practices can meet those expectations. On the other hand, larger practices have more pediatricians and can treat a larger number of patients. They can also provide greater access for same-day appointments, along with a better selection of convenient appointment times. A 2013 study showed that these larger practices offered worse continuity of care, however.
Interview Potential Pediatricians
Making an informed decision when choosing a pediatrician ensures a higher quality of care for the child. Interviewing a pediatrician one-on-one allows the parents to determine how comfortable they feel with the practitioner and determine his or her level of interest and professionalism. Prepare a list of questions to ask during the interview. The pediatrician should be open and willing to provide information about their education, professional experience, and treatment philosophies.
Consider Other Types of Medical Professionals
Pediatricians are not the only option when it comes to medical care for children. Family medicine doctors and osteopathic doctors are also options, as long as they are board-certified. Nurse practitioners have advanced clinical training and some specialize in pediatrics in all types of medical settings, including private practices. These licensed, trained professionals give shots, interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medicines, and perform medical examinations.
Trust Those Instincts
The AAP recommends that children see their pediatricians a minimum of seven times for well-child checkups during their first year of life. The relationship between the physician, the parent, and the child should be a trusted one. Finding a pediatrician who is qualified, personable, listens to the parent’s concerns, and addresses health issues in a professional way is important for the long-term health of the child. If you don’t get a good “vibe” off of a doctor you’ve interviewed, or even one your child has already seen a few times, consider why that is. Should you look for someone else?