She's on time for appointments.
Who wants to sit, and sit, and sit in a waiting room with a cranky, sick child? Worse yet, who wants to have a feverish kid and find out the office closes early on Wednesdays? A pediatrician worth his weight in thermometers will have office hours that work with your schedule, will allow a same-day sick visit, and won't keep you waiting. How long is too long? With a routine visit, you shouldn't have to wait more than about half an hour, and you should be in and out of the office within an hour, Dr. Kempf says. "Well-checks can take longer, because they involve hearing and vision screenings and immunizations."
Your child has vomited six times in the last 12 hours. She can't even hold water down. You call your doctor for advice and, of course, a spoonful of reassurance. How soon should you expect a call-back? A well-run office will have a triage system in place, with nurses answering medical calls and directing the ones they can't or should not handle to the doctor. "If a patient is asking for immediate medical advice, that should be given right away," Dr. Spooner says. "And if a patient needs a call-back regarding the problem, that should happen within 30 minutes to an hour." If you're calling for a nonclinical matter -- a prescription refill or advice on whether to introduce fruits or vegetables first to your baby -- most pediatricians will return the call within 24 hours. She has an efficient, friendly office staff.
What good is a great doctor if a surly, uncooperative office staff makes it difficult to get to her? Whether you want a referral, an appointment for a sick visit, or some help clearing up an insurance problem, it pays to scout out a practice where the staff is as competent and affable as the doctors they serve. "In any office, a patient spends more time with the support staff than with the physicians," Dr. Kempf says. "A really great pediatrician will have an office staff that exudes the same qualities as the doctor."
He respects your child.
You might be the one who answers the questions for your shy toddler, but a really good pediatrician will never forget that the concerns and comfort of his patient -- your child -- come first. "I'll examine a child where he or she feels most comfortable, whether it's on the exam table or a parent's lap, if possible," Dr. Colon says. "I also never lie to a child -- if something is going to hurt, I tell him so, but I'll also tell him why I have to do it. In general, I think a good pediatrician will treat a child the way he would treat his own kids."
She has excellent partners in her practice.
Chances are you deal with one physician in your pediatrician's practice more than the rest. "But all the doctors should have the same standards," Dr. Kempf says. You don't want to walk into the office when your doctor is on vacation and get subpar treatment from her partner. The doctors may each have a different personality, but they should all give the same quality and style of care and have the same medical approach.
He knows when to refer you to someone else.
One thing you definitely don't want in a pediatrician is an ego. Because pediatricians are generalists, they aren't always the right physicians to handle problems like food allergies or skin disorders. "A pediatrician should know his limits," Dr. Colon says. "What I know, I know very well, but certain things are beyond my training. If I've done the appropriate things and a child is not getting better, he needs a different type of care, and my pride is never wounded for recognizing that. That's why there are specialists."
Copyright © 2003 Donna Christiano. Reprinted with permission of Parents magazine December 2003 issue.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.