Choosing the right pediatrician for your little one is not always an easy task. Sure, countless hours of watching Grey’s Anatomy may have led one to almost expect all pediatricians to be like the sunny, bubbly, overly-nurturing and wonderful characters that are portrayed in the show…but let us be honest for a second. The real world is not always that clean cut. And finding a good pediatrician is not always going to be as simple as it seems to be on TV.
It’s all in the name
A pediatrician is far more specialized than a general practitioner. Because a pediatrician’s job is to care for a newborn right up until they reach adulthood, and because they are dealing with children and treating all their medical issues on a daily basis, the studying and training required to qualify is very intensive.
Still…it is not the easiest thing to pick out THE right pediatrician for your family. It’s not as if you are going to just open the Yellow pages, take a pen, close your eyes and choose whoever your pen landed on. You would not pick out your partner like that. You would get to know the person before deciding to make a lifelong commitment. And choosing a pediatrician is the same thing. You are going to be making a big commitment after all. Your pediatrician will be there from the start and see your child grow up, helping you along the way. So it is important to make the right choice.
What services does a pediatrician offer?
Pediatricians in a general practice will perform routine procedures such as vaccinations, general health care and treat more common childhood illnesses and ailments such as mumps, chickenpox, measles, ear infections, throat infections, colds, colic, broken bones, asthma etc.
A pediatric specialist on the other hand, will focus on specific illnesses or ailments and generally treat children who are referred to them by general medical practitioners. Some pediatricians may also be licensed to conduct surgery.
Are they registered?
All practicing pediatricians need to be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. It might sound like a no-brainer, but before you do anything else, confirm that your prospective pediatrician is registered. As soon as any medical practitioner has qualified, they need to be registered with the board in order to practice. It is rare, but there are some ‘doctors’ out there who do try and get away with practicing without having the proper qualifications.
Are they experienced?
Try to find out what your prospective pediatrician’s track record looks like. Do they have practical experience in caring for infant and children’s health issues? If they are relatively new practitioners then you will need to decide how comfortable you are with this. It’s always better to have peace of mind, knowing that your child’s doctor has accumulated a wealth of experience in the field and will be able to make accurate diagnoses and also offer practical treatment.
Do you get on?
When choosing a pediatrician, it is important that you feel you can relate to them. You should be able to feel comfortable enough to open up to your doctor when discussing medical aspects of your child, and that you can trust them to give you the best treatment options available. It does not help if you have found a doctor with excellent track record, yet who has no bedside manner and who rushes you in and out of their office without even taking into account any concerns you may have as a parent.
Is it practical?
There are obviously going to be certain practical matters to consider such as proximity, hours of availability and cost. It is preferable to have your pediatrician within a reasonable distance to your home. Carting your sick child to your doctor who is an hour’s drive away is not only impractical and inconvenient, it is also not very cost effective.
You also need to consider the hours during which your pediatrician is available. Will you be able to make an appointment after-hours or over the weekend? If not, you need to consider who you will turn to as a backup in case of an emergency. Also consider whether your doctor is available to take after-hour calls and to give medical advice. If so, are there extra fees involved?
I have the candidates…now what?
You have done all your research and come up with a list of possible candidates. Now what? You can try narrowing the list down to one or two who you really like, or who you think is a practical choice for your family. Perhaps try calling them and making an appointment to meet with them in person (just be sure to find out whether there is a fee involved when it comes to interviewing) and arrive with specific questions that you want to ask them in person. You can consider asking the following questions:
– What are your areas of expertise?
– How many times will you want to see baby in the first year?
– How long are appointments?
– Which hospital are they affiliated with?
– How long in advance would you need to book an appointment?
– How does the practice handle payments?
– Is there a solo or group practice and, in the event of being a group practice, will you always see the same doctor?
– Is there a separate sick and wellness waiting area?
– What are their thoughts on antibiotics?
There are various questions that you can also ask yourself once the interview is done such as:
– What was the general atmosphere of the office?
– Were the office staff friendly and helpful?
– Was the office clean and child friendly?
– Do you and the doctor share similar views on certain things such as immunization, circumcision, the use of antibiotics etc?
– Did you wait long for your appointment?
– Did you feel rushed when interviewing the doctor or did you feel accommodated?
– Do you feel comfortable around the candidate? Would you feel comfortable having this person treat your child in a medical emergency?
– Was the practice located in a convenient area that was easily accessible and with sufficient parking?
Parents may be nervous to ask too many questions but rather know too much than too little. Remember, the pediatrician you choose will be the one you consult for advice for the next couple of years. So make it count.
The big decision
Once you have interviewed several candidates, sit down and think over what you have learnt from the interviews. You have done all the research and investigating, you have taken the time to sit down and chat to the candidates, now you may need to use some gut instinct. Don’t rush into making this decision, but take some time to weigh up all your options. If you are still unsure, speak to your partner about the reasons why you cannot make the decision. Are there any reasons at all for you to doubt your decision? Are you not comfortable with certain aspects? Are there underlying reasons preventing you from making a decision?
Also, ensure that you are making a decision because you have weighed up all your options and you are truly comfortable with your choice (not because you are feeling pressurized to make a decision). Rather take the time to find someone with whom you can develop a long-term relationship rather than jump into making a hasty decision and then having to repeat the entire process of finding a new doctor a couple of months down the line.