It's hard for some parents, but unless you've actually gone to medical school, there will be times when you need to defer to an expert when making decisions about your baby's health. Trust is essential. That's why it's important to take special care when choosing -- and connecting with -- your pediatrician.
Finding a fit
Finding the best pediatrician for you and your family may take some footwork. Start by asking friends and co-workers if they would recommend their pediatrician, or ask your ob-gyn or midwife whom she recommends. Then schedule a "meet and greet," if possible while you're still expecting.
"I'm always very impressed with parents who schedule a prenatal visit to meet me and see how comfortable they are with me as their doctor," says Dr. Julian Ayer of Pediatrics Northwest in Tacoma. "I may be a great pediatrician for some moms and dads, but not the right fit for other families."
Finding that right fit makes it easier to build trust and a good connection. After all, your pediatrician is the person with whom you will share your deepest fears and concerns about your child's well-being, not just health issues, but developmental and behavioral worries as well.
And finding the right fit doesn't stop with the doctor; check out how the office staff works too. How long do you wait on hold when you call? How long do you have to wait to get an appointment? How does the office handle calls after hours and on weekends? All of these things help determine your comfort level with your pediatrician.
Dr. Kenneth Kumasaka at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle says good communication with the office staff helps appointments go more smoothly. For instance, most offices will typically schedule 10 to 15 minutes for a sick visit with a child when the parent says the child has just one symptom. But if your child has multiple symptoms, or you want to address more than one concern, tell the scheduler when you make your appointment; she can give you more time on the doctor's schedule.
Knowing how a pediatrician's office plans its schedule can also help you get the appointment times you need. Keep these four tips in mind:
1. If your child is sick and you want to get in to see a doctor that day, call first thing in the morning. Schedules can fill up by midday.
2. Most doctors leave more time in their schedules for seeing sick children December through March, so schedule well-child visits well in advance if you need them during these months.
3. Pediatricians often hold time open in their schedules just for newborn and young baby well-child visits. Although it may be easy to get in while your baby is young, older baby and toddler well-child visits need to be planned farther in advance if you want to see your own pediatrician.
4. The hardest time of year to get in to see your own doctor is usually mid-August through early September, when doctors see older children for back-to-school and sports physicals.
"Parents can get the most out of the time they have in their doctor's office by coming to the appointment organized and ready to tell their child's medical history and timeline of the illness in simple, accurate terms," Kumasaka says. This will leave more time for the doctor to ask questions and examine your child before making a diagnosis.
Time is always a factor. The more organized you are, the more likely you'll leave the pediatrician's office feeling all your concerns have been addressed. Ayer recommends jotting down a list of questions you would like to ask before you get to your appointment. This will help you stay on track and ensure you don't forget something you really wanted to ask.
If an appointment is running too long, the pediatrician may ask you to come back for another visit or finish the discussion later on the phone or via email. Dr. Joanna Vidal-Phelan of Cascade Pediatrics in Issaquah, says, "I tell my parents all the time that one-on-one face time is not the only time they can talk with their doctor. I train my parents to call me to ask questions, and I call them back to discuss their issues with them regularly."
However it's handled, good communication with your pediatrician is the key to unlocking the best health care for your child. Vidal-Phelan says, "I find the happiest parents are the ones who ask a lot of questions."