By Catherine Bertram
There are two types of specialists who treat children ranging from birth to age 21, pediatricians and family medicine practitioners. Choosing your child’s doctor is one of the most important decisions that families face, and these are the steps and questions I recommend that you consider before selecting a physician for your family;
- Research the doctors online to make sure they are certified by the American Association of Pediatrics (aap.org) or the American Board of Family Medicine (theabfm.org). Board certified members of the American Association of Pediatrics will have “FAAP” after their name.
- Check whether Registered Nurses and/or Nurse Practitioners are in the doctor’s office, as opposed to less-trained staff such as medical assistants.
- What specialists and hospitals does the doctor admit or refer their patients to? If your child ever develops a complex illness, will they coordinate care among all the doctors providing treatment?
- Pay attention to the office staff and mind your first phone call with them. Are they responsive? Do they seem organized and friendly, or harried of overworked? What is the doctor’s policy on taking and returning phone calls?
- Look carefully at the waiting room. There should be clean, defined areas with separate toys and books for sick and healthy children.
- You want their office to be closeby and convenient. Are they easily reached by car and public transportation? Do their office hours work for you and your family?
- What is their protocol for a sick or emergency visit?
- Meet the doctor face to face to make sure you feel comfortable with them, personally and professionally. Ask tough questions, and then ask yourself, are they genuine, clear and invested in your child?
- If the doctor is in a group practice with other physicians, who covers for the doctor? Who handles phone calls when the office is closed or when your doctor is on vacation?
- Some doctors handle short notice differently than others. Can you make appointments on short notice due to common maladies such as a cold or ear infection?
Questions about insurance should not come last. In what managed-care programs does the doctor participate? What is the policy for processing insurance forms? Make sure you know this affects your plan’s deductibles, copayments and coinsurance.
Catherine Bertram is a Washington, D.C. trial lawyer who has been working on issues involving patient safety for more than 25 years. She was previously the Director of Risk Management at MedStar Georgetown Hospital, and she currently resides and practices law in the District of Columbia. She works as a patient advocate for families, as well as those who are seriously injured or lose their lives as a result of preventable medical errors.