This article originally appeared in the March 21, 2013, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
From health care reform to smartphone apps that offer a “diagnosis” based on a range of symptoms, the methods people use to access medical care are rapidly evolving. Despite what seems like constant change, a timeless component remains vital to your child’s health—a relationship with a pediatrician you know and trust.
Your child’s pediatrician has a larger role than just providing immunizations and doing checkups. Pediatricians truly become your family’s partner in keeping your child healthy and happy. Your pediatrician will become your first call when your child is sick, you’re worried and need to know what happens next. Your family’s relationship with your pediatrician is an important one, making it vital that you choose the pediatrician that is right for your family. But how do you do that?
Family and friends are often a great source for information on pediatricians, but what if you’re new to the community or the first of your friends to expect a child? The American Academy of Pediatrics maintains a database of area pediatricians on its website (healthychildren.org) and most health systems keep a list of their pediatricians as well. You should be able to view where a pediatrician received his or her training and some information about the physician.
Of course, there are many factors when it comes to choosing a pediatrician. Location is one important consideration. When your child is sick or when you are busy running from work to appointments, being able to quickly get to your pediatrician’s office is important. Your medical insurance will likely be a factor, as well. Many insurance companies or managed care providers offer a list of physicians that accept your given insurance. Availability is yet another important factor. Many pediatricians provide evening or weekend hours to accommodate busy parents’ schedules.
What should you do when you find a pediatrician who appeals to you? Feel free to call their office. Your relationship with a pediatrician will last for decades (often longer, if you have more than one child) and you should feel empowered to ask questions about what being their patient will mean. Most pediatricians are happy to speak with prospective patient families about their philosophy, their practice and office environment.
While speaking with the pediatrician, you should get a good sense for their personality and the general tone of the office. Has everyone you’ve spoken with been courteous and respectful? You should feel confident that your child’s pediatrician can communicate clearly with you without medical jargon or words that you and your child cannot understand.
Your pediatrician will be an advocate for your child and, in turn, you should be an advocate for your child when finding the right pediatrician. The American Academy of Pediatricians offers some sample questions that parents might ask a pediatrician they are considering for their child.
- What is the physician’s policy on taking and returning phone calls? Is there a nurse in the office who can answer routine questions?
- How can parents reach their pediatrician or another pediatrician in the practice when the office is closed or during vacations?
- Can parents make an appointment on short notice, for instance, if a child wakes up with a sore throat or other illness? What if you have an urgent concern?
In the age of finding the answer to any question you might imagine on your smartphone, it is more important than ever for parents to find a pediatrician they trust to answer their questions in a caring, thoughtful manner and provide credible, understandable information. Parents should feel empowered and in control of finding the right doctor for their child.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is IMMUNO Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Louis University. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon website at www.cardinalglennon.com.