Friday, May 27, 2005

Choosing a Pediatrician

Many new parents feel most comfortable establishing a relationship with a doctor who specializes in children's healthcare: a pediatrician. Doctors at the local walk-in clinic are convenient, but most are general practitioners. They have the skills to meet the common needs of nearly anyone, but often do not have the specialized knowledge of any particular group of patients. A pediatrician, on the other hand, is a specialist in the particular unique healthcare needs of babies and children. This expertise makes them a great choice for your child's doctor. And by establishing an ongoing relationship with this person, you will allow the doctor to become an expert on one of the most important people in the world: your child. That's quite an advantage when you think about it.

Choosing a pediatrician is a very important decision. There are many factors to take into account. From location and office policies to insurance concerns, you need to consider the details of working with a particular doctor. You'll also want to think about personality, demeanor, and philosophy. By weighing all of these points carefully, you will be able to make the best decision for you and your baby.

If you are like most people these days, your first priority must be matching your insurance plan. Any doctor you consider needs to be covered in some fashion by your medical insurance. For some, this simply means that part of the doctor's fees will eventually be reimbursed. For others, you will need to choose from a specific list of providers or stay within certain geographic limits. Some plans may dictate which doctor you can see or which hospital you are allowed to use. Whatever the case, be sure you understand your insurance plan and its benefits. Contact your plan's customer service department or your employer's Human Resource Department to clarify any points you are not sure about.

It can be helpful to get recommendations from people you trust before choosing your pediatrician. Your own doctor, friends, relatives, or coworkers might have ideas and suggestions for you. Recommendations can be particularly useful if this is your first child or if you are new to the area. A handful of recommendations will provide you with a starting point in your search. Multiple recommendations for the same doctor might indicate that he or she is popular with others.

Check the hospital that the doctor is affiliated with. It's important that your doctor has privileges at the hospital you would want to take your child to in an emergency. You'll also want to make sure the hospital is covered on your particular insurance plan.

Once you've scoped out a doctor that you'd like to meet, schedule an appointment to interview him or her. You might need to pay for an appointment, but it will be money well spent. You want to make sure that you can work with this person for years to come and a bit of time and money spent now will save you quite a bit of aggravation down the road. Make sure the doctor is accepting new patients, and that you feel comfortable with his or her general attitudes and demeanor. Do you feel attended to? Do you feel like your questions and concerns are being addressed? Make sure the doctor's general attitudes about childrearing and children's health are in line with your own. For example, a doctor that believes in holistic cures may not be a good match if you are the type who wants to solve the problem as soon as possible and would rather have a pill to cure the illness if that's possible. Be sure that your doctor treats you and others with respect, and that you are comfortable with his or her general manner and think that your child will eventually be comfortable, as well. Remember that pediatricians see children well into their college years, so try to gauge how this doctor would treat children of various ages. Is the patience there to respond to childish questions and to reassure a frightened toddler? Will the doctor take a minute to encourage your elementary student who is considering a medical career? These things are all important, too.

Check the office's policies. Are the hours convenient to your usual schedule? What happens when you need a doctor's advice after hours? Find out if there is a number you can call if there is an emergency after hours or if you have to take the child to the emergency room. It's far better to able to contact the doctor if need be when your child is ill at two in the morning than to have to pack everyone up for a trip to the hospital. It's cheaper too! There may be a charge for an after-hours phone call, but it's bound to be far less expensive than taking the young one to the hospital for an earache.

And how about payment policies? Some offices require you to pay for visits in full then get reimbursed by your insurance while others will accept co-payment and file the paperwork for you. Does the doctor's office file insurance paperwork? Do they follow up when necessary? It may also be important to clarify the policy on financial problems and late payments, especially if your job is less than stable. All of these things vary from office to office, and there is no one right or wrong answers. But there are answers that won't work well to meet your personal needs, and you should be aware of the policies before you choose to establish a relationship.

Put some thought into choosing your child's doctor. This person will be there for you when you are upset or worried about your child, and most certainly will be there for your child when he or she is sick or hurt. Your child's doctor will answer your questions and reassure you when needed. You'll want to be sure that you're ready to share your life and your child's life with this person.

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