The Most Important Questions to Ask a Pediatrician You're Considering

You've got a baby on the way—now's the time to find a doctor you can trust. Here's our guide to choosing the pediatrician that's right for you and your little one.

To begin your search, get referrals from your obstetrician/gynecologist or nurse-midwife, other parents in the neighborhood, the public affairs department at the nearest hospital, a pediatric floor nurse at a local hospital or medical center, or by checking the pediatrician referral database at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Once you have a few recommendations, check these doctor's credentials. The American Board of Medical Specialties is a good source to find out the following information:

  • Is the pediatrician certified by the American Board of Pediatrics (AAP)? This means the doctor passed a specialized exam in pediatrics.
  • Is the pediatrician a member of the AAP? If so, the doctor will have an "FAAP" after his or her name. This means he's met established standards for providing child healthcare.
  • If you choose a family physician, is he certified by the American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM)? Family doctors are trained to care for patients of all ages—including children—but they do not have specialized training in pediatrics.
  • Does the doctor have specialized training? This is particularly important to know if you think your child will have special medical needs.

Questions to Ask the Doctor

When you've narrowed your choices down to two or three doctors, you're ready to get specific questions answered. If possible, set up interviews—face-to-face meetings will give you the opportunity to get to know the doctor and his staff and to ask about office policies. Here's what to ask:

  • How long have you been in practice? If you don't have this information already, this would be the time to ask.
  • What is your childcare philosophy? Talk to him about breastfeeding, circumcision, alternative medicine, vaccinations, sleep and discipline issues.
  • Do you have children? It may be comforting to know if your doctor has children the same gender.
  • Are you part of a group practice? If you go with a doctor in a solo practice, find out who covers when he's away. If he's part of a group practice, ask about the background of the other doctors. Some practices have pediatric nurse practitioners. They are fully trained nurses often with an MA and specialized training. Physician assistants are not nurses. They have college degrees and two years of physician assistant training.
  • How long does a typical check-up last? Ideally, at least 20 minutes.
  • What are the office hours?
  • How are emergencies handled? Some offices accommodate same-day walk-in visits. Ask how after-hours emergencies and questions are handled.
  • Is there a call-in policy? Some pediatricians have a specific call-in period each day. In some practices, a nurse answers routine questions. Find out how such phone calls are taken and if there is a charge.
  • Do you make house calls?

Questions to Ask the Office and Staff

While getting to know your prospective doctor is crucial, don't forget to consider location when choosing a pediatrician. If your baby is sick, you won't want to travel far to get to the doctor, so it's a good idea to find one in your community. You'll also want to assess the office off the bat. Take in to consideration cleanliness of the waiting area, if there's a separate waiting area for sick children, and if other patients seem to be waiting a long time.

When it comes to questions, here are the top ones to ask staff:

  • Does the practice accept your insurance?
  • Does it accept a variety of plans in case your coverage changes?
  • Is a payment plan possible if you are not covered?
  • Which hospital is the doctor affiliated with?
  • Does your insurance cover services there?
  • What specialists are on staff?
  • Is there 24-hour visiting for parents?
  • If your child has to be admitted, can you stay overnight with him or her?
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