Dr. Susan Kressly is a board-certified pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She has a private practice in pediatrics and adolescent medicine and is Chairman – Department of Pediatrics at Doylestown Hospital in Pennsylvania.
Choosing a doctor to provide medical care for your child is an important part of your responsibility as a parent, and one that you should take seriously. Your child’s doctor will be there with you to assess your child’s growth and development, provide information and advice regarding emotional and physical health, and care at times of illness or injury. If you are fortunate, your family will also develop a meaningful personal relationship with your child’s doctor, and together you will celebrate the joys of growing up and share the difficulties that you may encounter along the way.
Q When should I start looking for a doctor for my child?
A Ideally this search should start prior to your seventh month of pregnancy. Starting early will insure that you have ample time to do research and make an informed decision. If you haven’t experienced it already, you will soon learn that children have a way of changing your plans. If you start early, you will have the process well underway before pregnancy problems, including pre-term labor, have the chance to catch you unprepared.
Q What is the difference between a pediatrician and a family doctor?
A All physicians attend medical school, usually a four-year curriculum that commences after college. Physicians then choose a field of study focused on the kind of medicine they want to practice. Family Practitioners generally spend an additional three years of training called a “residency” which prepares them to take care of families from birth to old age. Pediatricians spend their three years of residency focused on caring for children from birth through adolescence. Pediatric residency training programs have additional in-depth training in dealing with developmental abnormalities, children with special medical and emotional needs, and more complex medical problems that can affect children. Both family physicians and pediatricians take a long, detailed examination to become “Board Certified” either by the American Board of Pediatrics or the American Board of Family Practice. To find out whether your doctor is board certified, you can log on to http://www.abp.org/ or http://www.theabfm.org/.
Q Where should my search begin?
A For recommendations, begin by asking other doctors you know (your obstetrician for starters), as well as friends, relatives and co-workers. You may want to contact a nearby hospital (many of them have physician-referral services on-line), medical school or county medical society. The American Academy of Pediatrics also offers a physician referral service at http://www.aap.org/ (click on “You and Your Family” and look for the “Pediatrician Referral Service” link). When someone you know suggests a physician, ask a few questions such as:
- Are all your questions answered by the physician and office staff?
- Do you think your children like the doctor?
- Does the physician talk with and care about the children, not just the parents?
- Does the physician seem to know about current issues and advances in pediatric medicine?
- How does the office handle phone calls and emergencies?
- Is there anything about the physician or office that bothers you?
Do your own homework about the practice. Find out things like office hours, whether the office is currently taking new patients with your insurance, and with what hospital the doctors are affiliated. Most of these questions can be answered by office staff, and at the same time you will have a personal phone experience with the office staff.
Q How should I prepare to “interview” a new doctor?
A If you like what you hear on the phone, arrange an office visit to meet the doctor and get a first hand look at the office. Some practices call this a “Prenatal Visit” if you are pregnant, and some call it a “Prospective New Patient Visit.” Many practices charge a nominal fee for this visit since you will be spending time with the doctor which is usually not covered by insurance. Consider this an investment in your child’s future. Would you consider buying a new car without test-driving it first? If you already have a child, take them with you. You will get a first-hand look at how the doctor interacts with patients. Prepare a list of questions to take along. Most doctors have a “introductory talk” for these visits. Listen carefully, take notes, and see if most of your questions are answered. If not, the doctor should allow time for you to ask some of your own. Suggestions:
- What is your training and background?
- Do you have a subspecialty or area of pediatric interest? If so, what is it?
- To what hospital do you admit patients?
- Who will care for my child if you are unavailable?
- What is your personal philosophy regarding medical care to children? How do you feel about antibiotics, immunizations, etc?
- What do you like best about your job?
These are just sample questions. Ask other questions about things that are important to you. After your first visit with the doctor, ask yourself: Does this physician listen, answer questions, and seem interested? Above all, ask yourself if you like and trust this person. If your instincts say “no,” talk with the next doctor on your list. If the answer is yes, ask the office staff how you become a new patient, notify your insurance carrier, and look forward to celebrating your family’s development and health with a professional who shares your excitement at having the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child!
Susan J. Kressly, MD, FAAP
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