February 22, 2012

Interviewing a Pediatrician

Recently, one of my friends asked me what questions she should ask when interviewing a prospective pediatrician, so I thought I'd share my answer with everyone:

1) What insurance do you take?
Of course, this is only important if you're using insurance. I know several families now that have health insurance for emergencies, but pay for general health maintenance out of their own pockets. This reduces their overall medical expenses (because they have a cheap insurance plan, only for emergencies), and allows them to see whatever doctor they like. These families usually use free clinics for vaccinations, or pay out of pocket. This only works if your family is healthy. If you choose the latter option, ask about visit prices instead.

2) What hours is the office open for well visits? For sick visits? When is your chosen primary pediatrician actually in the office during the week?
Keep in mind that the smaller the office, the less hours they are usually open. So if you want to do well visits at night or on weekends, you will probably have to go with a very large practice, and may be seeing a different doctor (or nurse practitioner) each time.

3) Who covers for your physician when they are not in the office, not on call at night, or they are on vacation?
For night call, is the person on the phone a physician from your practice, a physician from another practice, or a physician extender (NP or PA) or nurse?

4) Do you use electronic medical records?
These can reduce errors, and allow the physician on call (if they are a doctor from the same practice) to access your chart at night and on weekends, if needed.

5) Can I always get a same day sick visit appointment?

6) Who answers regular questions by phone during the day? What I mean by this one is, does your pediatrician call you back if it is not urgent? Does a nurse handle most questions about illnesses on the phone? Does another physician answer the phone when your physician is not available?

7) Are there any physician extenders (nurse practitioners or physician assistants)? Are they the ones to see you for same-day sick visits or phone calls, or will your physician or their partner see you?

8) Are there separate sick and well waiting rooms? Are there separate sick and well exam rooms?
This reduces the chance of your baby being exposed to a virus

9) What is your vaccine policy?
If the physician allows un-vaccinated children in their practice, consider that your baby (who is too young to be vaccinated for certain diseases) may be exposed to somebody in the waiting room with measles, chicken pox, etc...

10) How often do you see the baby for child for regular check-ups?
This can actually vary quite a bit between pediatricians for the first 3 years of a child's life. After that, your child is seen for an annual well check every year.

11) Do you have a website? Do you use email to communicate with patients?

12) What hospitals do you cover? Will your chosen primary physician be the one to see your baby everyday in the hospital (when they are born and if they are admitted later) or will one of the covering physicians see them?

13) What kind of parenting resources can you offer?

14) Where is the best place to park or closest public transportation stop?
I have found (at least in big cities, such as LA and NY), that the best place to park for my doctor appointments is often somewhere other than the valet parking in the medical building. The website or administrative assistants at your pediatrician office should be able to tell you the best (free) place to work, as well as help you get there by public transportation, if that's your preferred mode of transport.

That's all I can think of for now, but please leave your tips in the comments section!
[My son is too young to be your pediatrician right now, but isn't he cute? ;) (c) ]