Seeking out a doctor for your infant or young child can be daunting. While it can take time to develop a relationship with even a good doctor, there are questions that can be asked to help pave the way and find the medical professional who can offer your child the best care.

First Things First

When looking for a pediatrician, ask for a consult appointment. Some clinics and practices will provide patients with a short appointment for a family to ask questions and get to know the physician and the practice. Be sure to bring your child to this appointment and take note of how the doctor attempts to interact with her.

There are family practice physicians who see children. These can be great choices for families, though the doctor's office, as well as his education, may be different.

When visiting the clinic, take stock of the waiting room provisions. A good waiting room will have toys provided for children, space, and possibly separate waiting rooms for sick patients and well patients coming for regular checkups.

Important Questions to Ask

1. What is the average time your patients spend in the waiting room? You may get a sense of this while waiting for your consult appointment. Always having to wait a long time is not pleasant for children or parents, but keep in mind this could mean your doctor does not hurry his patients through appointments.

2. Is there more than one nurse we will work with? Nurses are an integral part of any doctor's practice. Often the ones who help secure appointments and relay important messages, they can help make your visits efficient and helpful for children and doctors.

3. What is your view on immunizations? Regardless of your stance on this issue, getting an answer to this question may give you some idea of how well the pediatrician respects โ€” or doesn't respect โ€” the right of parents to make reasonable health decisions for their children.

4. What is the best way to communicate with you or your nurse โ€” and receive a timely response? Does the doctor provide his email? A telephone number? Is there a message center that will relay urgent messages quickly?

5. Are you the physician my child will regularly see at this practice? Of course, doctors have off-days and vacations. What you want to know is: will this doctor be seeing your child the majority of the time? Is there a nurse practitioner patients can see in case the doctor is out, or will you have a choice of another physician within the practice?

6. What education have you had on infant and early childhood development? Many practicing pediatricians have had far less formal education on development than teachers and early intervention workers. When taking your child for a well-child checkup, it's important that the physician be able to observe your child some, and not rely entirely on a list of questions.

In this recent interview with Dr. Gregory Hagan, president of the Massachusetts chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Irene Sege of Strategies for Children wrote about Hagan's desire for child development professionals and medical professionals to demonstrate more integration in serving families:

"One of his goals is to familiarize pediatricians with the research on the benefits of high-quality early education and the importance of early childhood development."

7. Do you have any areas of specialty or research? Do you have a child with special needs, or one with special health considerations? It may be best for you to find a pediatrician that can help with any conditions your child may have, or simply have a good doctor who can effectively and willingly access resources for you.

8. Do you see the practice of medicine as an art or a science? This may be a lot to load on a doctor on the first visit, but the point is to find out if the doctor takes a regular course of action for standard conditions with every patient, or if he takes individuals into consideration when making medical decisions for his patients. Ask the doctor to expand on his answer if you're not satisfied.

It can be hard to get an idea of a physician's consistent practices with just one office visit. If, after receiving referrals from friends or family, you find one with whom you feel comfortable, your following visits will be the best telling sign for how well this pediatrician fits with your family and whether or not he or she is the best pediatrician for your child.

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