Trusting a child's health to a physician is not a decision to be taken lightly.
Selecting a physician for your newborn or toddler can be a trying experience.
A publication from the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Caring For Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5," offers valid suggestions on choosing a pediatrician. It encourages a parent to select a few candidates, interview, ask questions and make an informed decision.
There are a few guidelines and questions new parents should consider when determining which pediatrician is best for the baby. One might also think about whether a pediatrician or a family physician trained to provide primary care to adults as well as children is more suited to the needs of the family.
Different pediatricians have different approaches, so new parents may want to interview several possibilities before selecting the pediatrician who best suits the family's preferences and needs. It would be best to conduct the search before the baby arrives so the chosen pediatrician can give the newborn his or her first exam.
Considerations to help you make a decision are:
Finding potential doctors: Ask your obstetrician or primary care physician for a referral and ask other parents who they go to and can recommend. After collecting a few names, arrange for a personal interview during the final months of pregnancy. Both parents should attend to see if they both agree with the pediatrician's policies and philosophy. Don't be afraid to ask questions, which can be very important.
Questions to get started: How soon after birth will the pediatrician see the baby? When will the baby's next exam take place? When is the doctor available by telephone? How do I get in touch with the doctor in case of a medical problem? Are there guidelines to help determine which questions can be resolved by phone and which require an office visit? Which hospital does the doctor prefer to use? How often will the pediatrician see your baby for checkups and immunizations? What are the costs of the care?
After these interviews, parents need to ask themselves if they are comfortable with the doctor's philosophy, policies and practice. Parents should know that they can trust him or her and that their questions will be answered and concerns handled compassionately. Feeling comfortable with the staff and the atmosphere of the office is also a consideration.
The most important "test" of the physician selected is how he or she cares for the child and responds to the parents' concerns. Parents who are unhappy with any aspect of the treatment should talk to the doctor directly about the problem. If the response does not address the concerns properly, or the problem simply cannot be resolved, don't hesitate to change physicians.
What if your relationship with your physician is deteriorating? Dr. T. Berry Brazelton suggests in his book "Touchpoints" that parents ask for a special time for a consultation.
Remember, the doctor may be on the defensive and will be sensitive to the fact that the parents are dissatisfied. The parents should let the doctor know they respect and admire him or her. Parents might have to meet the doctor halfway by apologizing for needing more than the doctor may have realized. Parents should then outline their needs. Both the parents and the physician have the child's best interest as a common goal.
One question always worth asking is, "Have you done your share to make the relationship work?" Parents who think they have done so and still think their relationship with the physician is poor should seek a new physician.
-- Gayle Anderson is a parent educator with Parents as Teachers.