A good time to start thinking about finding a pediatrician for your new baby is at the beginning of your third trimester. The last month of a mother’s pregnancy can be unpredictable, and you do not want to put this off until the end.
So, do you just go online and search “best pediatrician”? That is probably not the best strategy. Most prospective parents begin by creating a list of prospective pediatricians via referrals from friends, family members, next-door neighbors — people they respect and whose children appear to be well cared for. Before doing this, however, you should ask yourself a few questions, the answers to which will better inform your discussion:
- How available is your pediatrician, especially after hours or on weekends?
- How long has your pediatrician been at this practice? Although there is no direct correlation, when a practitioner has been in the practice for a while, there is probably a higher chance they will stay at that practice long-term. Practitioners who have been in the community for some time also may have beneficial ties to local hospitals and specialists. On the other hand, longstanding practitioners may be less available because they serve a larger patient population. You may find easier access to someone who is newer to the practice.
- Is your pediatrician a solo practitioner or part of a larger practice? Think about whether you prefer consistency or convenience. When you choose a pediatrician in a solo practice, you know you will always see that practitioner when you make an appointment. However, a larger practice might be able to accommodate a last-minute appointment because you have the option of seeing another provider who is available sooner. Larger practices also may have more after-hours and holiday coverage.
- Does your practitioner speak another language or have someone in the office who can translate if you have a family member for whom English is not their primary language?
- Does your child have a medical condition that was diagnosed prenatally? If so, you may want your child’s practitioner to have some experience in that area.
- What about the practitioner’s approach and style? Do you prefer brevity and efficiency, or would you prefer someone who takes extra time explaining — sometimes at the expense of running a little behind schedule?
Most modern pediatrics groups have websites, which offer clues to the culture of a particular practice and give families opportunities to book online appointments, access their medical records or even to schedule telehealth visits. Many offices also now offer mobile check-in and access to a patient portal through a mobile app.
Often these websites will have robust information and resources. You might also find a detailed pediatrician’s bio, which will give you some insight into his or her career, shared interests or personality.
Look for associations the pediatrician has — privileges or relationships with local hospitals and organizations that are important to you. When pediatricians are members of the Arizona chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, it means they are dedicated to the specific issues of Arizona children and will advocate for all of them.
Make sure the pediatrician has the designation “FAAP” after his/her name. This means they are a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, a designation requiring board certification. This level of certification ensures that the pediatrician is maintaining a level of pediatric expertise that is up-to-date and evidence based.
Pediatric care is often provided by a team. Most often that care is provided by a pediatrician. In some practices, you may have the option of seeing a nurse practitioner, physician assistant or physician extender. These team members can make more time available for consultation and education. One example: Practitioners who also have expertise in breastfeeding can offer a breastfeeding consult in the office.
What else should you consider as your delivery date approaches? During the pandemic, your pediatrician may not be able to see you in the hospital but will be glad to see you the moment you are discharged. The hospital’s pediatric team will help coordinate that for you.
Make sure you have your car seat ready and that all family members who will be near the new baby have been fully vaccinated, including all boosters — especially Tdap and influenza. Newborns are particularly vulnerable to these diseases and will not yet have been vaccinated against them. While breastfeeding has innumerable benefits, it does not adequately protect against these diseases.
Especially during these pandemic times, it is a good idea to restrict visits to your newborn during the first couple of months. And when you do choose to welcome visitors, be sure to practice social distancing, use masks and wash hands.
If you are expecting a child, congratulations! I can speak for most pediatricians and pediatric providers when I say that meeting new families and developing relationships that last until children move on to adulthood is one of the best parts of our job. We look forward to meeting you. Stay healthy!
About the author
Dr. Jason Vargas is a board-certified pediatrician at Cactus Children’s Clinic in Glendale for the last 16 years. He is the current president of the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which partners with Raising Arizona Kids to provide timely, evidence-based health information to Arizona families.