Choosing your baby's health care provider
Your child's health care provider will become your partner in maintaining and enhancing your child's health. Finding a good partner requires answering a few simple questions.
Family physician, pediatrician or nurse practitioner?Family physicians, pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners all provide primary care for children and each bring certain strengths to the relationship. For example:
- Family physicians are likely to have the best knowledge of your entire family's health needs.
- Pediatricians will have had the most in-depth training and experience with children's health issues.
- Pediatric nurse practitioners usually take more time to answer your questions and to explain medical issues.
All three types of caregivers can provide excellent care. All three will need to seek a subspecialist's consultation for your child on occasion.
The type of provider you choose will often depend most on your personal preference. Physicians and nurse practitioners have different personalities just like everyone else. Finding one that will work well with you often depends more on their personality and practice style than it does on their specialty.
Is the doctor or nurse practitioner competent?It is often difficult for parents to assess the competence of their child's physician. Parents rely heavily on the opinions of friends and other doctors.
- Ask your obstetrician for recommendation. Ask to whom she or he takes his or her own children.
- Check with nurses in the nursery. They will know many of the strengths and weaknesses of the doctors in the area.
Whether or not you go further than this depends on how anxious you are about the competence of your child's physician. If you want more information than just a recommendation, you can start by checking to see if your child's physician achieved specialty board certification. The American Board of Medical Specialties' Web site allows you to check the certification status of any physician in the United States.
You also might ask your potential doctor where she admits patients that need hospitalization. Does she admit patients to a university or children's hospital, participate as a member of the teaching faculty, or engage in research? While these types of participation usually indicate a better than average competence, they do not guarantee that your provider will work well with you and your child.
Is the doctor or nurse practitioner compassionate?Like everyone else, health care professionals come in all varieties of professional and individual temperament.
If you are seeking a specialist from whom you primarily want technical expertise, you might tolerate poor communication and long waits in the office. However, when selecting a primary care physician, you might well focus on the doctor's compassion as manifested by courtesy, interest in your child and willingness to explain medical issues to you.
Your primary care doctor should have enough concern to give you individualized counsel and act as a guide and a support both in times of health as well as during illness.
How convenient is the clinic?
In the beginning, office hours, clinic location, parking, after-hours coverage and the ability to see the same provider for each well-child visit might seem like small matters. However, these factors can make a big difference in your satisfaction with the clinic, especially if your child is ill or develops a chronic illness.
You also should consider cost and insurance coverage. As your health plan changes, your infant's provider may or may not be in the new health plan. You might look for a clinic that accepts a broad array of health insurance. Ask about copayments and deductibles also. These can mount up quickly if you go "out of plan" to a provider who is not included in your health plan.
Checklist for potential caregivers
- Is he or she board certified? (Check the American Board of Medical Specialties' Web site.)
- Does he or she admit to the children's hospital, university hospital or other major hospital in your area?
- Who provides the after-hours coverage?
- Is the clinic covered by your health plan?
- Can you see the same provider for each regularly scheduled visit?
- What are the office hours?
- Is the clinic location and parking facility convenient?
- Does he or she take the time to answer your questions?
- Does your instinct tell you that he or she will make a good partner to keep your child healthy in the future?
Making a decisionAfter you get the information you need, you should visit the clinic and speak with the doctor you are considering for your child.
Trust your instincts when you meet with the doctor. Keep looking if you don't feel the doctor or nurse practitioner will work effectively with you to keep your child healthy.
Choosing your baby's health care provider worksheet (requires Adobe Reader)
Find a doctor
Signs to call your baby's health care provider
Month 9: The big day is near
Source: Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
First published: 05/15/2001
Last updated: 10/14/2007
Reviewed by: Michael Slama, MD, Allina Health Mercy Women's Health Clinic