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How to choose a Pediatrician

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If my newborn is sick, can I be seen the same day? Some offices have specific hours for walk-ins, others will work you in with an appointment. Whatever the policy, if your newborn is bleeding or has some other emergency, that should trump the rules.

What should I do about problems or emergencies after office hours? Make sure you can reach someone for questions at night or on the weekends. Sometimes this is contracted with an outside service. Ask if pediatricians or pediatric nurse practitioners are part of that. Although it is less and less common, some pediatricians practice alone. If so, find out about the doctor’s availability after hours and who covers for the practice for vacations and time off. If that is done by another practice, check out the other doctor as well.

To what hospitals does the doctor admit newborns? A general community hospital that does not have a pediatric ward may not be the best for small children with more than simple issues. For complex or life threatening problems, is there a teaching hospital (one associated with a university and medical school) or large urban center available?

Will the doctor come to the hospital where you are delivering? These days it is not uncommon in urban areas for women to stay with their previous obstetrician even though they have moved to a different community. Your delivery hospital can introduce you to a pediatrician on their staff for the newborn exam in the hospital.

When should we come in after delivery? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 1-2 days after leaving the hospital. Jaundice, heart murmurs and excessive weight loss can occur in the first week. Also breastfeeding is more likely to be successful if you have ongoing support the first week or two. Be skeptical if you are told 2 weeks.

When sitting in the waiting room, can you hear employees talking about patients? You would not want your medical issues aired for the general public. I noticed that the receptionists in an orthopedist’s office played the voice mails from patients left during lunch in such a way that the whole waiting room could hear. When I told the doctor I learned all about Mr. So and So’s problem, he was horrified and I hope changed things.

You may or may not be charged for this first getting-to-know-you visit. Whether or not, the doctor should sit down with you and give you a relatively open ended time to ask questions. In my office we do it at the end of the day. Some patients come in with a list (I remember one mother-to-be with 4 single spaced typewritten pages). If you do not have a list, however, the doc should be able to tell you what you need to know without prompting.

Is the office relatively clean and child friendly? I say “relatively” because anyplace that children and newborns inhabit can be temporarily stained with things like grape juice vomit. Child friendly means that there is enough diversion for children, whether it is toys, books or video and people are smiling and obviously appreciate children. Ideally, there should not be a long wait at any time but human events are not always manageable. If you are sitting with other parents, ask them about the usual wait time and how they like the office.

Finally, trust your own gut. Everyone on your block may like Doctor A, but if you have a negative feeling you should keep looking. This relationship is important and frequent, and you should enjoy it and trust it.


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