I hit the doctor jackpot with my first pediatrician. When we moved out of state I honestly considered driving back for annual checkups. That’s how amazing Dr. Turner was. I say I hit the jackpot because when I picked her office I had no idea what I was looking for. I went with a gut feeling that came when I met her and as parenting would soon teach me: the gut knows best.
Looking back though on the reasons why I have such love for that doctor and all the members of the practice, there are a few things that I think parents should be on the lookout for when choosing the care for their newest addition.
- Physical Office: Your opinions may differ on whether you think they should or shouldn’t have community toys for kids to play with but it should be universal that everyone feels comfortable in the offices of their doctors because you’ll spend lots of time there. Is it generally clean but not so spotless that you’d feel guilty if your wiggly 15 month old spills Cheerios? Is it bright and cheery and stimulating for kids? This may seem superficial, but you’re usually stressed enough that you don’t need dark and depressing or worse-bored. Also, if the offices are thoughtfully decorated it might mean the doctors are on top of what is good for the totality of their patients, not just their medical needs.
- Number of Doctors: There is nothing wrong with a large practice, mine was, but make sure you ask specific questions about who your child will see and when. Most often, if you bring your kid in for a non-scheduled appointment, you can count on seeing a different doctor, nurse practitioner or physicians assistant. That is not a bad thing, just find out that information up front and see if you can find out about these people so you can base opinions on more than just your one doctor.
- Hours and scheduling: Not only do you have to figure out how to fit regular check up appointments into your schedule but you also have to expect plenty of appointments not to fall in anyone’s schedule. Is the office open early? Late? Weekends? Are you going to go in for a ten a.m appointment only to sit in the waiting room (or worse, the exam room) until noon? Ask how many appointments they schedule per hour and what the average wait time is. My office was masterful at this. You never waited too long because they padded their schedule for emergencies so you weren’t ever bumped too far and if you were the last minute see, there was time for you to squeeze in. Trust me, when you are dealing with a sick (or worse, perfectly healthy) ten month old, you want in and out fast, no matter how excellent your doctor is.
- Speaking of Emergencies: Is there an emergency hotline you can call first to get immediate answers and gauge whether you need to come in at all? If so, who staffs it? I can’t count the amount of times I called the nurses just to get confirmation that I was doing the right thing. They were the reason we all survived baby-hood. Also, does the office have a relationship with a 24 Hour emergency center or hospital emergency room? My office docs took turns on rotation at the Urgent Care center in town. There was never any insurance issues or care concerns if we had three a.m fevers or broken arms on Sunday morning.
- Insurance and Billing Staff: I know the last thing you want to think about when you’re trying to care for this precious life is money and bills, but I can’t stress how important this is. You will be at the doctor a lot. You may have all sorts of weird tests and prescriptions and often referrals. Find out up front what your insurance covers and if this doctor is in plan. Chat with the billing office at the doctor to find out who is responsible for paperwork and such when it comes to x-rays and blood tests as well as emergency visits and pharmaceuticals. You want this information early and you want to see that the people who take care of it are good at what they do and kind to their clients. The insurance and billing office staff is almost as integral to your well being as the doctors themselves! You don’t want to find this information out when you’re trying to make important health decisions as well.
- Your Gut: When you have all the facts, sit with your feelings before deciding. I knew almost instantly that my doctor was for me because I felt it. She had an excellent medical background that included training in a top tier shock trauma hospital so I was sure she’d seen it all. More importantly though, she said something that I believe to be the overall key to a healthy patient doctor relationship. When explaining their practice, she said that they were obviously the professionals, but they as at team placed a lot of value on the “feelings that parents come to us with”. She was a parent, which isn’t imperative but her feelings about parents were. You will know your child best. You will know if they are “off” even if you can’t pinpoint exactly why. A great pediatrician gives weight to that knowing without allowing us in the beginning to give in to our neuroses. In the beginning, where we freak out over everything, they don’t allow us to go off the rails. They show us what to look for. They instruct us on typical and atypical. They teach us, through respectful guidance on what is right, how to trust our own instincts when something feels wrong. I have two examples of my kids being provided relief and solutions because I conveyed my concern despite initially positive test results or the absence of “the correct markers” for a problem. I pushed for more and sure enough the pushing led to discovery. Both times my doctors trusted my gut because they knew they had taught me how to trust it myself. That might be the most important element to find in your doctor: Do they value you?
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