Choosing a pediatrician

By: Diana Montgomery, M.D.

Choosing a pediatrician is an exciting – and sometimes daunting – milestone. It’s one thing to find a doctor for yourself. But deciding on a doctor for your baby brings one of those moments when you realize that you will soon be someone’s parent, wholly responsible for a completely new person. Now what? Here are some suggestions to guide you towards finding a great fit with your pediatrician.

Consider your sources. Family, friends, co-workers, your obstetrician – ask around and see who they take their kids to. Are they happy with their choice? What do they like about their pediatrician and their pediatrician’s office? What do they wish could be better? This may help you generate a list of practices to investigate further and maybe some to skip. Online forums and websites can be great – but don’t believe everything you read. Recommendations from people that you know and trust are likely to be much more reliable.

Logistics are important. Is the office convenient? Assuming all goes well, you can expect to take your baby for a visit with the pediatrician eight times in the first year – and that’s just for regularly scheduled well checks. Is it important to you to see a doctor with an office in your neighborhood or are you willing to drive across town for the right person? There’s no right or wrong answer here – it’s just good to know what your tolerance is for a commute. Is moving to Marin a likely possibility for you? It might make sense to choose a practice with multiple office locations so that you won’t have to change doctors when you change counties.

Logistics are really important. What if you have a question for the doctor outside of a regularly scheduled visit – or your baby needs to be seen after hours? Find out how this works. If you call the doctor’s office for advice, who calls you back – and how quickly – during business hours and beyond? Some practices have a nurse available by phone but require that you make an appointment in order to speak with your doctor. Other practices will have your doctor respond to non-urgent medical questions during the day, but have an after-hours advice line staffed by nurses who relay messages to an on-call doctor as needed. Some doctors take their own calls after hours. If your child needs to be seen for an illness, are you likely to see your regular doctor or whoever is available in the practice? You may be comfortable with a large practice and lots of different faces – or you may prefer more consistency. If your child needs to be seen in the evening or over the weekend, know whether your office has extended hours or has an after-hours clinic that they refer to. If you are willing and able to pay a fee that is over and above what your insurance reimburses, concierge practices and private doctors provide greater access to your physician – and even house calls. So think about your needs, and make sure that your pediatrician’s office is set up to provide care in a way that works for you. No parent should feel left alone to worry about their baby without support from their baby’s doctor.

What’s your style? This may be the hardest piece to suss out. Answers to the questions above can be found on the web and from other parents. But really knowing whether your baby’s soon-to-be doctor will work for you requires a conversation with the pediatrician, either by phone or in person. Here again, there is no right or wrong answer. Some parents prefer a dialogue with their doctor about various treatment options – others prefer to have a doctor who calls the shots. I suggest asking a question and seeing how the doctor answers. Ask about their advice on sleep training an infant or how they support breastfeeding or what their take is on circumcision. What they answer is probably less important than how they answer. Is this a doctor you trust to guide you through babyhood and beyond?

Good luck – and welcome to parenthood!