Healthy Choice: Find the Right Pediatrician for Your Child

By Joyce Heid

There are so many things to do when you’re expecting a baby, such as choosing the baby’s name and picking a theme for the nursery. Unfortunately, many expectant parents neglect to focus on one of the most important decisions they will need to make—finding the right pediatrician for their baby. Some parents spend more time choosing what color to paint the child’s room!

According to Dr. Charles Shubin, director of Pediatrics for Mercy FamilyCare, a division of Family Health Centers of Baltimore, “In our nursery, we see about a third of the moms delivering without having chosen a pediatrician. This is despite a real effort to get the OBs and insurance companies to get the moms to do this during their prenatal care.”

Expectant parents should allow ample time to search for a pediatrician before the baby is due, stresses Shubin.
“Making this selection under pressure is never a good way to do it,” he adds.

Start Your Search

Three months before the baby is due should give enough time to visit prospective pediatricians, do a little research, and make an informed choice. It also provides for a small buffer of time should the baby arrive early.
The best way to begin is with those who are most familiar with the pediatricians where you live. Your obstetrician and your primary care doctor are good places to go for recommendations. Also talk with other parents and neighbors.
Once you have a few names, give their offices a call. First thing to ask is if they are accepting new patients, then check to see if they participate with your insurance company.

“It is very difficult to have a baby come to a pediatrician’s office only to find that the pediatrician doesn’t take the family’s insurance and thus can’t see the baby,” says Shubin.

If the practice takes your insurance and is accepting new patients, try to set up a “new mom consult” visit. This allows you to ask the doctor questions about his or her practice. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Keep in mind that, if there is a problem with your newborn, it is this doctor who will be making your baby’s medical decisions. You want to be sure you are comfortable with who is caring for your baby.

Also, remember that this physician will be a part of your child’s life way beyond the first few months.
Initially, you will want to know his or her viewpoint about topics such as breastfeeding and circumcision, but also ask questions about potty training, antibiotic use, and other concerns that affect your child beyond infancy.
Shubin says that many parents make the mistake of “…not planning ahead and thus not having the opportunity to select a pediatrician carefully, considering that many children stay with the same pediatrician well into their teens.”

You want to be sure this is someone who either shares your parenting philosophy on matters such as discipline, the family bed, and feeding issues, or at least whose opinion you would respect and value. If not, you may be setting yourself up for friction.

You also want to inquire about basics such as office hours, how appointments are scheduled, after-hours emergencies, and with which hospital he or she has privileges. Next, observe the office staff. Did they acknowledge you when you walked in? Are they friendly? Do they answer your questions politely? Do they seem overburdened with ringing phones and checking in and checking out patients? Is the office clean? Don’t be afraid to ask the other parents in the waiting room questions while you wait. Most parents are happy to share their opinions with you.

A Little Background

It is also important to ask about a pediatrician’s training and certification. You want a pediatrician who is board certified. This means that he or she has passed a written examination after completing training. Doctors who are board certified will have a certificate from the American Board of Pediatrics.

Family practice physicians are also qualified to take care of children. If you decide to have a family physician as your child’s primary care provider, look for one who is board certified by the American Board of Family Physicians. Ask if there is a limit to the number of pediatric patients seen per day. You want to avoid someone with whom getting an appointment is difficult.

Fortunately for parents who wish to check the background of a prospective doctor, the 1999 session of the Maryland General Assembly passed Senate Bill 302, which requires the Maryland Board of Physicians to create a profile on each licensed physician.

You can access information about a pediatrician’s license at the Board’s website. For a profile of any physician licensed to practice in Maryland, you simply need the physician’s name or Maryland license number. You can view everything from where he or she went to medical school to his or her malpractice information to whether the doctor ever had a disciplinary action taken against him or her by the Board.

Once you have chosen a pediatrician, keep him or her informed about how your pregnancy is progressing and if you are having any problems, such as gestational diabetes or if there’s a chance of delivering early. The pediatrician should be aware of anything that could impact the baby’s health.

Your baby’s first visit to the pediatrician should be two to three days after leaving the hospital. Your baby will be seeing this physician quite frequently for well baby care and when he or she is sick. Since the first visit will be far from his or her last, make sure your choice in pediatrician is one that makes you feel secure and confident that your child’s health is in good hands. BC

Extra! Check with the Maryland Board of Physicians

For information about a physician’s license, log onto the Maryland Board of Physicians website, at www.mbp.state.md.us/index.html. Information available includes:

  • Final disciplinary actions taken by the Maryland Board of Physicians.
  • Final disciplinary actions taken by another state board.
  • Medical school attended and the date of graduation.
  • Certification by the American Board of Medical Specialties and the American Osteopathic Association.
  • Hospital privileges.
  • Primary practice setting.
  • Participation in Maryland Medical Assistance Program.
  • Medical malpractice information.
  • Criminal information.

You can also contact the Maryland Board of Physicians by mail or phone, at: Maryland Board of Physicians, 4201 Patterson Ave., Baltimore, Md. 21215; 410-764-4777 or 800-492-6836.

Sample Questions for a Prospective Pediatrician

  • Is the physician board certified in pediatrics?
  • Is the pediatrician a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics?
  • With which hospital or hospitals is the pediatrician affiliated?
  • If your child needs to be hospitalized, will the pediatrician be able to care for your child in the hospital? You will also want to know if your pediatrician will visit your newborn in the hospital after delivery.
  • Does the pediatrician participate with your insurance?
  • Is your pediatrician part of a group that covers for each other or are other groups involved?
  • What are the practice hours?
  • Ask about after-hours emergencies. What happens on nights or weekends if your child becomes ill and needs to see a doctor right away?
  • Can you call the doctor during the day if you have questions?
  • How long is the wait for well visit appointments?
  • Can you get a sick appointment on the same day?
  • What is the doctor’s position on topics such as circumcision, breastfeeding, potty training, discipline, using or overusing antibiotics, vaccinations, etc.?
  • Does the pediatrician follow the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics?
  • Will the doctor refer you to a specialist if you want a second opinion?
  • If you are planning a home birth, ask when the doctor would like to see the baby. Will he or she do a home visit, or are you required to come in with the baby within a certain amount of time?
  • If the child has special needs, is the pediatrician comfortable with complex medical issues?

©Baltimore’s Child – July, 2007

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