Expectant Parent Appointments
You've made a list of pediatricians you're interested in, now what do you do? How do you decide which doctor is right for you? Start by scheduling Expectant Parent Appointments to interview the potential pediatricians. Considering that the doctor you choose will be the first to treat your baby, you'll want to be sure that you're comfortable with the doctor's personality, office staff, location, and environment. A prenatal appointment is an excellent opportunity for parents to ask questions and get acquainted with the office staff.
What to ask
During the interview, you should find out how the practice works by asking:
- What are the office hours? Flexibility of the doctor's schedule may be a concern, especially if you work outside the home; you may prefer a doctor who offers weekend and evening hours.
- Is this a solo or group practice? If it's a solo practice and your doctor is not available on weekends or evenings, what are the coverage arrangements? If it's a group practice, ask about the qualifications of the other doctors in the office. Who will see your child if your doctor is on vacation or otherwise unavailable?
- Does a PNP work in the office? How does he or she fit into the practice arrangement?
- Which hospitals is your doctor affiliated with? Will your doctor come to the hospital when you deliver to examine the baby? If your baby needs to be hospitalized, who will provide care there?
- How does the office handle phone inquiries during and after hours? Are special times set aside for parents to call in with questions or is there an open advice line (usually staffed by a "phone nurse") during working hours? How are after-hours calls handled? How quickly can you expect a call back from the doctor on call after you've contacted the answering service? Are after-hours calls routed to a "nurse-on-call" system? This is a service that employs a staff of nurses to give parents advice about how to handle most common childhood illnesses. If your child's illness is thought to be serious, the nurse will transfer the call to your child's doctor or a covering physician, or advise you to go directly to the emergency room. Otherwise, a record of the call will be relayed to your doctor the next day.
- Is email an option for communicating with your doctor? Does the practice use an electronic medical record, that may make it easier to transfer your child's health information, fill out forms, and schedule appointments? Does the practice have its own website that provides helpful advice and access to reliable health educational material, or may allow you to directly view your child's test results?
- Will the doctor handle emergencies or will your child be referred to an emergency room or urgent care center? Are these facilities equipped to handle pediatric emergencies?
- Are lab tests done in the office? Most offices can perform basic tests, such as complete blood counts, urine testing, and rapid strep tests rather than send samples out to a laboratory.
- What are the payment policies? This is especially important if you do not have prepaid health coverage. What are the fees for services? Must they be paid in full at the time of the visit or can payment plans be arranged?
- What are the policies regarding referrals to specialists in the event your child needs additional care? Is the doctor financially penalized by your health plan for referring patients to specialists, and if so, will this influence the doctor's referral practices? If you are in a health management organization (HMO), it's important to ask how your doctor handles out-of-network referrals.
Making a question checklist will help you organize your thoughts and be thorough during the interview. Some doctors offer group classes for expectant parents to learn about the practice and discuss newborn care, while others offer one-on-one interviews.
Many insurance companies encourage these prenatal appointments or classes and will cover any cost involved; however, be sure to check with the doctor's office and your health plan first to avoid surprises.
What the doctor's office should be like
The interview is a great time to observe office procedures. Check out the reception area: how many patients are waiting? More than a handful may mean overbooking or it could mean the doctor is spending extra time with a patient who needs it. Is there a place where sick kids can be separated from those in for a well visit? Is the area clean and child-friendly? Is the staff polite and considerate to patients in the waiting room and to people on the phone?
While you're waiting, talk to other parents to determine whether they're satisfied with the care. Is their child comfortable with the doctor? Do the parents feel confident the doctor is thorough and competent? The overall atmosphere in the waiting area will give you a good idea what the practice is like.
The doctor's personality
Another important aspect of the interview is getting a feel for the doctor's personality. Does he or she see parents as partners in a child's care? Is he or she patient and willing to explain things carefully? Do you get the impression the doctor would be supportive if you requested a second opinion? Are the doctor's age and gender important issues to you?
Good communication between a doctor and parent is essential to building a good working relationship. Is the doctor is a good listener who seems responsive to your concerns? Are you comfortable asking questions or do you feel intimidated?
You also should be sure that your parenting style matches your doctor's in the important issues. How does the doctor feel about circumcision? Breastfeeding? Alternative or integrative medicines or techniques? Use of antibiotics and other medications? Does the doctor focus on preventive care, including immunizations, child safety, and nutrition?
Philosophical issues might not seem important before the birth but if you consider that this doctor may see your child for years to come, agreement on larger issues becomes more significant.
After you choose a doctor, don't throw out the information you put together on the other finalists. Things can change. For example, if your insurance changes, you may find yourself looking for a new doctor. Or it may just take a while to find a doctor you're really happy with.
Although you may feel overwhelmed with preparing for your baby's arrival, imagine how you'll feel after the baby is born. Choosing the right health care provider will help you feel confident your baby will be well cared for throughout childhood and beyond, and will ease some of the anxiety all new parents experience.
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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2018 KidsHealth® All rights reserved. Images provided by Cook Children's, The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.