Even after you've found doctors who seem perfect on paper, you still have to get along with them. "You need to talk in person or at least over the phone to see if you have a good rapport," Dr. Shubin says. That's where the doctor interview comes in. Set up an appointment for an informational interview with at least three doctors, recommends Andrea Leeds, MD, a pediatrician in Bellmore, New York. Here are some issues you may want to address:
- What's the doctor's availability? You might ask: What are your hours for regular checkups? Do you have times set aside for walk-ins? Are there weekend hours? If I have a concern, what's the best time to reach you? If I can't speak to you, who will I speak to? You'll also want to find out how many doctors are in the practice and whether you'll be able to see the same one consistently for sick and well-baby visits.
- Get a sense of the doctor's communication style. In general, does she seem to welcome questions? Does she listen to your concerns and answer them thoughtfully? More specifically, do your personalities mesh? Are you a parent who reads child-development books, does research on the Internet, and likes to have everything explained to you? Or are you more like Jodi Zielinski of Pittsburgh, who was happy to hear her pediatrician tell her to skip the books and trust him instead. "He told me, if you have any worries, you call me," she says.
- Does the doctor have children? It could give you more faith in their advice. Dorothy Pizzarelli of Cranston, Rhode Island, chose her pediatrician because, in addition to his solid credentials, his wife was expecting their second child. "I knew that I could look to him for real-life guidance," she says.
- Do the two of you share child-rearing philosophies? Many people take strong positions on a handful of hot-button issues, and if you're one of them, you'll want a doctor who either agrees with or at least respects your choice. You might ask: Are you supportive of breastfeeding (or bottlefeeding)? How do you feel about co-sleeping? What's your approach to discipline?
- Does the office have any testing or diagnostic facilities, such as a lab to process blood work or X-ray machines? If not, how far will you have to travel to take care of those things, which may be part of your child's routine care?
- Is the office clean, bright, and welcoming to children? For health reasons, it's ideal if there's a separate waiting area for sick children. Pay attention to the demeanor of the office staff and nurses -- do they seem helpful and courteous? However, don't let their behavior weigh too heavily on your decision. Papera says the nurses in her doctor's office can be impatient and curt, but it hasn't driven her away. "I feel like since they've seen it all, they take my concerns very lightly," she says. "But it's easy to overlook that because the doctor is so awesome."
- Get feedback from other parents. Chat with those in the waiting room. Ask basic questions such as: How do you like the practice? Have you been going here long? Do you have any complaints? Would you recommend this practice?