Sunday, December 31, 2006

Family Doctor or Pediatrician?

One of the most crucial decisions you will need to make before your baby is born is whether you will use a pediatrician or a family doctor. The decision is based on your location, needs, and preferences, but there are pros and cons to each decision.

First, let us consider pediatricians. They are doctors who spent more time in medical school and residency working on children. They have studied children and their development more intensely than family doctors. Pediatricians are in tune with what babies and children should be doing and when. Family doctors, on the other hand, are more familiar with a wider range of illnesses, and your child can see the family doctor forever whereas some pediatricians have age limits on their patients.

If you opt to go to a pediatrician, he or she will want to see you more often than a family doctor. In our case, our son went in at one week, two weeks, one month, two months, and so on. We had tons of office visits during the first year of his life, and he got vaccines at many of them based on our pediatrician and his preferences for vaccine schedules. A family doctor, on the other hand, may cut out some of the visits and give the vaccines on a different schedule to reduce the visits. You also may find that you are less likely to get a full workup but may just come in for the shots and then be gone. A pediatrician will do a full checkup every time you visit.

Pediatricians often have longer waiting periods, especially for new patients, than family doctors do. The nature of the family doctor is to keep everyone generally healthy. They work best with basic situations, such as strep throat, and they often refer patients who need more individualized care to specialists. That means that they will see your baby in the same way, and you will be in and out. Pediatricians tend to take longer at visits and ask tons more questions, which may be a pro or con for you depending on your preferences.

Pediatricians also are fewer and far between than general practitioners. Pediatricians are actually pretty scarce in some areas, and you may be looking at driving half an hour or more to get to a good pediatrician while family doctors are on almost every corner. Family doctors often are the only doctors around in small towns, so they may be the best place to go for your baby to avoid long drives and waits.

One place where I think pediatricians definitely win this contest is in the way that the doctors treat their patients. Family doctors do not spend their days working with children and may be less patient with them, especially when they are in foul moods or are not cooperative with exam techniques. Pediatricians, on the other hand, chose their profession because they love to be around children and often are more patient with babies and toddlers.

Some parents choose one or the other while other parents do a combination. Because of our location, we have resorted to the combination approach, though it is not my first choice. We have a family doctor who sees our son when he has basic illnesses that need to be treated, but our pediatrician gets the final say in major cases and does all of our well baby visits.

That system works for many parents and can allow you to know that someone who is specially trained to work with your children and watch their growth and development is on the job. That can make you feel better while still giving you flexibility in who sees your child when he or she is sick, depending on what works with him.

Regardless of what you want to do, you need to make a decision now so that you can get your baby to a doctor after birth. Many hospitals require you to have selected a doctor by the time you are discharged from the hospital, so you want to make sure that you have made a clear decision before then. You can change later if the decision does not work, but be sure that you try to get everything in order now.

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