How to Choose the Best Pediatrician for Your Child

Parent and child at pediatrician office

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Parents seem to go to a lot of different extremes when choosing a pediatrician. Some simply choose the pediatrician on call in the hospital when their baby is born or pick a doctor randomly from a list in the phone book or their insurance directory.

Others do detailed research and conduct an interview asking their potential new pediatrician everything from where they went to medical school to what their scores were on their medical boards.

When choosing a pediatrician, make sure you like your new doctor, and see if you agree on important parenting topics, such as breastfeeding, discipline, and not overusing antibiotics, etc.

Why You Pediatrician Matters

Choosing the right pediatrician is more important than most parents think. While you can simply change doctors if you don't like the first pediatrician you see, if your newborn or older child is truly sick, the first doctor you see could be making life-changing decisions about your child. Or they could miss a potentially life-threatening problem.

So even if you have a healthy newborn or an older child with a simple cold or ear infection, you should put some thought into who cares for him, just in case his medical problems are a little more serious than you think.

Pediatrician Recommendations

A common way for parents to choose a pediatrician is to get a recommendation from their friends or family members. This is probably one of the best ways, but when someone tells you that they love going to their pediatrician, be sure to ask why before you blindly follow them to the same office.

Many parents have different needs and you may be really turned off by the reason that they like their doctor. For example, they might like that their pediatrician is really fast and they are in and out of the office quickly, while you might like someone who moves slower and spends more time during the visit, even if it means that you have to wait a little longer for your appointment.

Or your friend might like that their pediatrician prescribes an antibiotic every time they walk into the office, whether or not they need one. On the other hand, you might get a negative report on a pediatrician only to find that they don't like the doctor because he doesn't over-prescribe antibiotics, which is actually keeping to the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Always try to get the reason or an explanation behind a recommendation to make sure you understand why someone likes or dislikes their pediatrician.

Your own doctor can also be a good source for a recommendation for a pediatrician, especially if you are having a new baby.

Choosing a Pediatrician

Although we like to think that things like cost and convenience should be secondary when making such an important decision, they can be very important when choosing a pediatrician. If the pediatrician you would like to see is not on your insurance plan or is an hour away, it may not be very practical to go to her office.

Important practical matters to consider when choosing a pediatrician, most of which you can ask the office staff, include:

  • Are the doctors all board-certified?
  • Are there any extra charges for advice calls during the day, after hours advice calls, refilling medicines, or requests to fill out forms, etc.?
  • Are there separate sick and well waiting rooms?
  • Do you have any late or weekend hours?
  • Do you offer same day sick appointments?
  • Do you offer telehealth or virtual visits?
  • How long is a typical appointment?
  • How many doctors are in the office? Will I always see my own doctor?
  • Is the pediatrician on your insurance plan? If you don't have insurance or have a high deductible, then be sure to ask how much each visit costs and maybe compare it to other pediatric offices in the area.
  • What happens if I need advice after hours? Is a nurse or doctor available on-call to talk to me? Will I be charged for these calls?
  • Where are you located and do you have a satellite office?

Another practical matter to consider is whether you want to go with a group practice or a solo practitioner. The benefit of a solo practitioner or a pediatrician who is in an office by themself is that you can be sure that you will always see your own doctor.

The biggest downside is that if your pediatrician takes some time off, either for a vacation or if they take an afternoon off, then you may have to wait for an appointment or go to another office.

In a group practice, you usually see your own pediatrician when they are in the office and have the benefit of seeing another doctor if they are out. Larger offices often have the benefit of sharing expenses and may have more equipment in the office, such as a lab, so that you don't have to go somewhere else to get blood work done.

Once you find a pediatrician you think you might like, consider scheduling a "new parent" consult to interview them before your baby arrives.

Interviewing Pediatricians

Although you can typically narrow down your choice of pediatricians by figuring out who is on your insurance plan and in your area, who is accepting new patients and getting some recommendations from friends and family, the best way to find a good pediatrician is to actually set up an appointment and meet with a few.

Keep in mind that while most parents like to think that they are looking for a good pediatrician, you are mostly looking for a pediatrician who is good for you and your family. And that often comes down to how well your personalities fit together.

A couple of good questions to ask during this interview to help figure out if you have found a good fit include:

Also, setting up an appointment to interview a pediatrician is something you can do when you are pregnant as well as if you already have kids and have moved to a new area or simply want to change doctors. Plus, it's always a good idea to meet with a few doctors before choosing a new pediatrician.

Most importantly, remember that it doesn't necessarily matter whether or not your pediatrician went to the best medical school or finished first in their class, so those aren't very important things to ask about.

You are really looking for someone who is going to care about your child, listen to and respond to your needs, and be available when you need her. And while you may have to initially trust your instincts that you found the right pediatrician, it may take several visits or even several years to know for sure.

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.