As a new parent, it's typical to feel completely overwhelmed about the "hows" of parenthood. How do you cut those tiny little fingernails? How do you know if your baby is getting enough to eat? How do you know what their different cries mean? How do you pick the perfect pediatrician? Turns out, there are questions to ask a pediatrician when interviewing them that can assist you in choosing the right healthcare provider for your child; someone who is going to, in many cases, oversee their health and wellness for decades to come.
While some things may not be up to us to decide when it comes to which doctors we can visit, given finance-based circumstances or other access issues, there are some things we can do to make sure we make the most informed decisions with respect to our child’s medical care. One of those things is to interview potential pediatricians in order to learn more about them and determine whether or not they are the the right fit. And since people have different parenting styles, cultures, and lifestyles, it’s normal to want to take into account other aspects of a pediatrician’s practice.
To get a better idea of how important it is to interview potential pediatricians, Romper spoke with Dr. Amna Husain, MD, FAAP, board-certified pediatrician and founder of Pure Direct Pediatrics, who said that "parents should absolutely take the time to interview potential pediatricians" because "your pediatrician should be someone that not only you are comfortable with, but someone your child, as they get older, should feel comfortable talking to."
1. "Do You Accept My Insurance?"
Some insurance companies have online databases that allow you to limit your search to in-network pediatricians, or provide their clients with call centers that will help you find options. If you don’t have access to either of those things, you’ll have to find out more information at the office. When getting to know the pediatrician, be sure to get detailed and clear information about insurance, to make sure you’re not impacted by stressful and expensive surprises.
2. "How Can I Reach You During Your Office Hours?"
This is important, because you need to know how to get in touch when the pediatrician is at the office. Whether you have questions or need guidance with an issue related to your child, knowing how you can reach them in a time of need is crucial.
"The relationship with a pediatrician goes beyond a child’s health and often involves serving as an advocate for the family," Dr. Husain tells Romper. "You need to have a doctor you can trust, depend on, and communicate openly with when it comes to your child’s health."
Maybe you just need to reschedule an appointment, but also have a growing concern related to your child’s health. If it doesn’t seem urgent, being able to call their healthcare provider with questions is helpful (if not anxiety-reducing), so it’s good to know how that’s possible.
3. "How Can I Reach You If There's An Emergency?"
Experiencing an emergency with your child can be incredibly scary. The first time I dealt with a serious health scare, my baby was 3 months old and I felt so overwhelmingly helpless.
Thankfully, I knew how to contact our pediatrician in the case of an emergency, and she helped us right away. Early on, she gave us a number to call in case of emergency, at any time of the day or night. Some pediatricians may offer that information right away by default. Some may not. In either case, it’s best to ask and clarify how you can contact them in case of emergency.
4. "Can I Access My Child's Records Online?"
It's important to know how you can obtain your child’s records, whatever that process may be. Maybe having automatic access to your child’s medical records is necessary for you, especially if you and your child rely on multiple healthcare providers. Even if it’s not, though, it’s still good to know the process in case of emergency.
5. "What Are Your Specialities?"
Some pediatricians have extensive experience working in different subfields, and continue to publish research in that subfield. Some even present at conferences, or participate in community health initiatives. Not only will you learn more about them when you ask if they specialize in a specific field, but you can also gain insight into aspects of their practice that can be extra beneficial to your child.
"Many general pediatricians (i.e. not specialized in any particular field of pediatrics such as pulmonology, gastrointestinal, or endocrine) still have special interests such as childhood nutrition, obesity in childhood, breastfeeding and lactation support, or pediatric mental health," Dr. Husain tells Romper. "Ask your pediatrician if there practice has any special focus in addition to general pediatrics."
By finding out details about their background you can find out if they are the best fit possible for your family's needs.
6. "How Far In Advance Should Appointments Be Booked?"
Depending on the practice and where you live, your pediatrician's schedule could fill up quick, making it difficult to schedule appointments. My child’s pediatrician, for example, is regularly booked, so we schedule our appointments months in advance. Ask how early you should be scheduling your child's wellness visits, so you can be sure to plan ahead and accordingly. Some follow-up questions, that Dr. Husain recommends, include:
- Does the practice offer evening or weekend appointments?
- Do you have the option of booking same-day sick appointments
- If my child becomes ill after office hours, what is the protocol or process for getting in touch with the office-will you speak to a pediatrician or a nurse triage service?
7. "How Long Have You Been Practicing?"
Find out more about their history with the practice and in the field. If you’d prefer a pediatrician with decades of experience, this information will be invaluable to you. Or maybe they don’t have decades of experience, but they do have other qualifications you’re interested in. If the info isn’t located in a place you have access to before meeting them, be prepared to ask.
8. "What Is Your Late/Cancelation Policy For Appointments?"
Life happens, things come up, plans suddenly change, and sometimes that means you have to cancel and/or reschedule appointments at the last minute. Maybe your commute was delayed due to a traffic jam, or a sick passenger on the train. Maybe an emergency came up and you had to cancel altogether. Whatever the reason, it’s good to know how your pediatrician deals with lateness or cancellations.
If you’re in a busy metropolitan city," Dr. Husain tells me, "consider ease of finding parking, along with the commute time. Is there potential for traffic during rush hour?" Those are all important things to take into account and finding out the pediatrician's specific policy helps.
9. "Do You Conduct Meet N' Greets Or Prenatal Consultations?"
"If the doctor is too busy to have any face-to-face time with you during the meet n’ greet, beware," Dr. Husain says. "As a new family, you want to feel welcomed into an office as a potential patient!"
This is especially important if you're a first-time parent or navigating finding a pediatrician while pregnant.
10. "Do You Have Any Hospital Affiliations?"
Dr. Husain tells Romper that "your pediatrician’s office is known as 'outpatient,' whereas hospital-employed physicians work 'inpatient.' Many pediatric outpatient offices no longer see their patients when hospitalized or inpatient anymore." She also tells me that "pediatric hospitalists have begun to fulfill those duties, especially in larger cities" so it's important to know their affiliations, if any, in case your child is admitted.
11. "Are You A Part Of A Solo Or Group Practice?"
"In solo practice," Dr. Husain says, "there is one pediatrician which makes for great continuity of care, but determining coverage when your child’s doctor goes out of town can be tricky. If it is a group practice, ask about other clinicians in your pediatrician's practice, as they may need to fill in when your pediatrician is out of town, or when you need to be seen urgently for a same day visit."
As a result, asking what type of practice the pediatrician is a part of can let you know what could happen in case of emergency or changes in your schedule.
12. "What Type Of Technology Does Your Office Use For Communication?"
"Technology has streamlined patient care in many ways — appointment reminders, filling out forms, checking in, etc. It’s worth asking your pediatrician if they have incorporated some of these systems into their practice," Dr. Husain says. With respect to how clients communicate with office staff, she also recommends these follow-up questions:
- Can you make appointments online and fill out forms on their website?
- How will I learn of the test results-will the doctor call me or a staff member?
- If I have a question, will I be able to communicate with my child’s doctor directly via email or patient portal or will I leave a message with the nursing staff?
- If I reach the answering service when the office is closed, how long will it take for a doctor to get back to me?
13. "Do They Offer Newborn & Infant Care CPR Certification Classes For Expecting Patients?"
In case you, or anyone in your family, have an interest in learning this helpful skill, consider asking your potential pediatrician if they offer these types of programs. Even if they don't, there's a chance they can still point you in the direction of a facility or doctor who can help you.
14. "What Types Of Diagnostic Testing Are Performed In The Office?"
"Most outpatient pediatric offices do not perform a broad array of diagnostic testing," Dr. Husain says. "If your child is ill and requires multiple tests and imaging, they will likely be referred by your pediatrician to an emergency room or hospital."
Some places do, primarily outpatient pediatric offices, offer some basic level of diagnostic testing in the office. This question can help you determine what other arrangements you may need to make in the future if your child needs any testing not offered on site.
15. Ask Yourself: "What Was The Overall Atmosphere Of The Office Like?"
"After you meet your pediatrician," Dr. Husain says, "try to remember how the office appeared. Was it clean? Were there separate sick and well child waiting rooms? Is that a priority for you? How long did you have to wait to see the pediatrician? Were there a lot of patients in the waiting room? If the waiting room is packed, it may be a sign that the office is understaffed or that it overbooks."
The space is important, too! How did you feel in the space? How did your child feel? Take those feelings into account when interviewing a pediatrician as well.