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The Art of Finding a Pediatrician

Experts share the must-ask questions to help first-time parents find the perfect doc for their precious one


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From researching and buying the crib to the clothes to the car seat, first-time parents have plenty on their plates. Some of it can be checked off via Facebook crowdsourcing, but when it comes to finding the right pediatrician, word-of-mouth advice is only the start.

The goal? Finding a technically qualified physician who can address parents’ concerns in a clear, measured way—somewhere between laissez-faire and alarmist.

Nothing beats meeting face-to-face with a prospective pediatrician to sound this out over scheduled prenatal visits, says Nicole Gorton, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in Hillcrest.

“Sit down with the pediatrician to talk everything through, from the experience in the hospital to well-baby visits and their philosophy on vaccines, antibiotics, nutrition,” she says. “It’s important to be comfortable with your doctor before you start. You are embarking on an adventure for the next 18 years and can never be quite sure what type of personal discussions may come up: behavioral issues, developmental issues, or parenting and discipline discussions. It’s rarely severe medical problems.”

Indeed. Nor is it just fevers and colds—parents and docs might find themselves discussing weight, speech delays, and other sensitive topics.

As for logistics, some of the essential need-to-knows include: Which hospital(s) does the physician use? Do their hours align with your schedule? Do they have lab and X-ray capability?

“Assess the office,” adds Stuart Rubenstein, lead physician at Children’s Primary Care Medical Group in Carmel Valley. “Is it clean? Is it welcoming to children? Is there a sick side and a well side?”

In addition, Rubenstein says, get a sense for their “in case of emergency” strategy, like your baby waking with a fever of 102 on a Sunday morning. How does the office handle after-hours care? Do they have evening and weekend hours or walk-in times when your child can be seen without an appointment? Is there a 24/7 physician or nurse triage number? What kind of electronic health record do they use? A standalone health system might not be connected to other hospitals or specialists. “If the baby needs to see a specialist, the doctors should have immediate access to that child’s records.”

Ultimately, Gorton underscores, parents should select a pediatrician who is equally capable of understanding their concerns, sensitively addressing difficult issues, and talking them down in times of unnecessary stress.

“You should have a pediatrician who is interested in getting to know your family,” she says. “If you have someone who treats you like a medical record number, it’s going to be hard.”

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