Originally posted on my old blog in 2012.
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. The BEST way to make sure you are covered by your insurance is to go to your insurance and ask them directly, as some plans, even with a large network and PPO, exclude some doctors directly.
I know several families now that have health insurance for emergencies, but pay for regular doctor visits out of their own pockets, due to very large deductibles. 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, but only as long as nobody gets sick. These families usually use free clinics for vaccinations, or pay out of pocket. If you choose this option, ask about “cash” 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? Who is there to see you when they are not in (a doctor or NP)?
Keep in mind that the smaller the office, the less hours they are usually open, but the better service and more personalization you usually get. So if you want to do well visits at night or on weekends, you will probably have to go with a very large practice, but usually see a different doctor (or nurse practitioner or physician assistant) 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 your physician, a physician from your practice, a physician from another practice, or a physician extender (NP or PA) or a phone triage nurse (someone who has a book of triage protocols that they read from)?
4) Do you use electronic medical records?
These can 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 get a same day sick visit appointment?
These should be reserved for urgent matters, not chronic medical problems.
6) Who answers regular questions by phone during the day?
Does your pediatrician call you back even for non urgent questions? 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? How long is the typical wait in the waiting room?
Recent studies have shown that this does not actually matter, as most kids do not get sick from the waiting room, although the elevator and pharmacy near the office may be bigger germ pools. However, I have included it because people like it. An alternative question to ask, is how long someone typically spends in the waiting room. Some small practices get everyone into exam rooms very quickly, whereas other places have you waiting there for an hour.
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 or 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) 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 administrative assistants at your pediatrician office should be able to tell you the best place to park, as well as help you get there by public transportation, if that’s your preferred mode of transport.