Whether you're expecting a new baby, preparing to move to a new city, or dealing with health-insurance-related issues that require a sudden change in providers, finding a pediatrician can be a hassle. But with some careful planning, you can find a pediatrician who is close to your home, takes your insurance and shares your values.
To help make things easier, we interviewed working pediatricians and parents, who shared their advice for finding the right practitioner for your family.
1. Do your research first.
Some people just hire the first pediatrician they find listed in the phone book or on their health insurer's list of providers—but there's a better way. Talk to friends, your kids' teachers, or even your obstetrician if you're expecting, and ask for their recommendations, as well as any doctors to avoid.
The Internet also offers a wealth of information about physicians that goes beyond just a phone number and address; consumer-written reviews and ratings are available on sites like Health grades, Angie's List, RateMDs, and Vitals. "Certainly, online research is a place to start, both by searching online and through social media," says Douglas Curtiss, MD, a Yale-educated pediatrician who practices in Ansonia, CT. "Other resources include the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and any local universities," which can all help parents locate qualified pediatricians in their area. (The AAP's "Find a Pediatrician" tool is located at healthy children's website.)
You can also do a background check on potential pediatricians by looking them up on your state's Board of Medicine website. "This lists where they trained and any disciplinary actions," says John P. Fernald, MD, a U.S. Army-trained pediatrician who runs Rainbow Pediatrics in Beaver, WV. "Many practices also have a website that tells about the office, policies, staff, provider bios, etc.," Fernald adds. (Fernald notes many of his new patients find him by asking their Facebook friends for doctor recommendations.)
Some people wait until the absolute last minute to make a decision. And that's OK, says Kristie Rivers, MD, a staff pediatrician at a Fort Lauderdale children's hospital and medical contributor to Bundoo.com, a physician-driven website for parents. "If you find yourself in the hospital delivery room before you pick a pediatrician, ask the nurses on the floor," Rivers advises. "They work with pediatricians all the time and can be an excellent resource."
2. Meet with potential pediatricians before hiring them.
Curtiss stresses that the best way to determine if a pediatrician is right for you is to interview them, noting he offers free initial consultations to any prospective families who are considering hiring his practice. "We spend 15 minutes explaining our practice, what makes us unique, answering questions, and touring our office," he explains.
Joe Rawlinson, father of four and author of Dad's Guide to Twins and Dad's Guide to Raising Twins, agrees. "Many pediatricians have open-house style meetings where you can go and meet with the doctor, office staff, and nurses to see if they’re a good fit for you and your family." If you're already a parent, Rawlinson also stresses the importance of bringing your kids along to these meetings.
Fernald also does these informal meet-and-greets, and doesn’t charge prospective patients for them. "Mostly it's an opportunity for parents to get a feel for me and my personality and see if they feel like we would be a good fit," he says.
Any pediatrician that doesn't allow free consultations for prospective patients is probably one to cross of your list.
3. Ask about board certifications and any care specialties.
Just because doctors hang out a shingle calling themselves pediatricians doesn't mean they have done advanced study to prepare them to specialize in treating children. "Look for a board-certified pediatrician," Rawlinson stresses. (A board-certified pediatrician has completed a three-year pediatric residency beyond medical school and has also passed the certification exams of the American Board of Pediatrics.) Board-certified pediatricians are usually also Fellows of the American Academy of Pediatrics, abbreviated as FAAP. Any pediatricians who get cagey when asked about their credentials are ones to avoid.
Some pediatricians offer care specializations in addition to (or instead of) the general pediatrics practice that cares for children from birth to young adulthood. As a parent of identical twin girls, Rawlinson sought a pediatric practice that had experience with multiples. "You want to ask specifically about [a pediatrician's] experience with multiples," Rawlinson stresses, adding that twins, triplets, and other multiple sets have some unique medical, developmental, and behavioral needs. "If the pediatrician dismisses twins as if they're just two singletons, you might want to look elsewhere."
Other care specialties exist, too. Curtiss, who authored the book Dyslexic and Unstoppable, has a subspecialty treating kids with dyslexia, in addition to his general pediatrics practice. Some pediatricians specialize in treating preemies (they are also called neonatologists), while others may be orthopedists (treating broken bones and congenital deformities), pediatric general surgeons, pediatric oncologists (cancer specialists), pediatric psychiatrists (many of whom sub-specialize in autism), and more. Your primary care pediatrician can often refer you to these specialists when needed.
4. Discuss payment and appointment policies up-front.
When interviewing prospective pediatricians, try to find out about their billing and payment policies, hours, and appointment policies (including whether same-day appointments are available for sick children, or evening and Saturday appointments for working parents). Another important thing to ask is whether there is someone for parents to call after hours (especially overnight and on weekends) during emergencies.
It's also crucial to ensure that the pediatrician takes your insurance and understand the office's co-payment policies. (Some offices expect you to pay in full up-front and then seek reimbursement from your insurance, which can be a hassle.) While relatively rare, an emerging model for pediatricians is concierge practice, which takes no insurance and requires parents to pay for everything out of pocket. These practices generally see fewer patients and spend more time treating them.
If money is tight, you're uninsured, or you're on Medicaid, community health centers that specialize in treating low-income families may also be available in your area at little or no cost. (Ask your local hospital or school for referrals.)
5. Trust your gut.
Often, the best way to know if a pediatrician is right for you is to trust your instincts, says Curtiss. "If something doesn't feel right, trust that feeling and search for a better fit," he says. Some clues that a pediatrician is a bad fit include a bad feeling when you call, rude staff, difficulty scheduling appointments, or feeling rushed during the initial consultation or appointments, Curtiss says. A cramped, dirty office is another red flag, he adds.
Sometimes a bad fit is less obvious at first. "Often it is a gut feeling," Rivers notes. "It may have to do with your personality vs. the doctor's. Some people prefer someone more laid back, while others need a doctor to tell them exactly what to do." The pediatrician's practice philosophy should also match your own values on everything from breastfeeding (or formula feeding) to vaccines and discipline, she says. It can sometimes take a few visits before you know whether a practice is right for you, Rivers adds.
The pediatrician should also be receptive to your questions and not brush them off. "Whenever I get new patients who come from another provider in town, they almost always say they have concerns about their child that weren't being addressed," says Fernald.
If you ever need to switch providers, the process is relatively simple, Rivers notes. “A simple phone call to the [doctor's] secretary asking for your records to be transferred to the new doctor will suffice," she says.