Choosing a doctor for your kids can be a daunting task for a new parent. There are so many questions to ask, and many parents want a doctor that supports their own beliefs with regards to things like feeding method and vaccines.
We were very blessed (and spoiled) with our first pediatrician. He was fantastic! He listened when we had questions and concerns. He had wonderfully practical advice. But, perhaps most importantly, he had a manner that could calm my first time mom fears quickly and easily, and reassure me that I was doing a good job! Bear had colic and cried most of the time I was with her for the first 4 months of her life. I was a basketcase! Everything I was doing seemed wrong. I remember one appointment perfectly, like a video in my mind, when he told me that sometimes, when things got to be too much, it was alright for me to put her in her crib, shut the door and walk away to calm myself down. After all, how on earth was an upset mother supposed to help a baby calm down? I expressed a bit of horror at the thought. Leave my child crying in the crib? How could I? She would be scarred for life! She would think I didn’t love her! He noticed my expression, grinned and said, “Elizabeth, I promise you, none of my patients has ever died because their mom left them crying in their crib for a few minutes! It’s going to be ok. She’s not going to remember this. It’s more important for you to keep your cool!”
Unfortunately, soon after Lizard was born, our wonderful pediatrician took a position as the head of an emergency department at a children’s hospital in Ft. Worth. We weren’t huge fans of any of the other doctors at that practice. It was a large practice, and there were policies we didn’t like. That was when our long search for another good doctor began.
If you’re a first time parent looking for a pediatrician, it’s likely that you have a long list of questions ready to ask at an interview appointment. I won’t give you another long list of questions here…there are plenty of those available all around the internet. But, there are a few things I have experienced as a mother of five (and believe me, we’ve spent our fair share of time in the doctor’s office!) that you may want to consider during your search for a doctor.
1. The Reception Staff
When dealing with your doctor’s office, you won’t actually be spending much time interacting with the pediatrician you have chosen. You’ll see the doctor for 10 or 15 minutes at appointments. Most of the people you interact with at the office will be members of the doctor’s reception staff. These are the folks you talk to when you make your appointment. They’re always the first people you talk to when you have a question for your doctor. If the doctor has a poor reception staff, you’re going to have issues, no matter how fantastic the pediatrician’s medical expertise.
I have encountered a couple different kinds of problems with a doctor’s staff in my experiences. The first (and most irritating) was a staff whose members were just plain rude. There is nothing more infuriating than making a phone call to an office that you pay to provide an essential service, only to have to sit on hold, or re-tell your problem to 8 different receptionists. Trust me, at some point, your child is going to have some sort of accident or sudden illness occur that is going to be worse than you’ve experienced before. You’ll be worried and scared. This is not the time you ‘ll want to sit on hold for half an hour while the receptionist does her nails before she meanders down the hall to discover that the nurse is, in fact, back from lunch (and has been for over an hour), but she’s already back in a room with another patient…”Would you like to leave a voice mail?”
The second big reception staff deal-breaker I’ve experienced was one that kept losing my appointments. I’d call, make an appointment for one of the kids to see a doctor. The day of the appointment, I loaded up all the kids into the car and drove the hour into town for the appointment. There was no record of my child’s appointment. The first time it happened, I thought I must have written something down wrong, or maybe dreamed I’d made the appointment. The second time, I thought I was going nuts. The third time, I got mad and caused a bit of a ruckus…but decided to give them one more chance. The fourth time, it was back on the search. It was too bad, because I really liked the doctor…but since I could never get an appointment for the kids to see her, what was the point?
2. The Nursing Staff
Aside from the reception staff, the nurse at a doctor’s office is the next person you’ll spend a lot of time with. If you call with a question about your child, chances are you’ll talk to a nurse, who will in turn go ask the doctor. Then, the nurse will come back to the phone to tell you the doctor’s answer. Often, that will prompt another question from you, which can occasionally (and annoyingly…for all parties involved) start the whole process over again.
If the doctor’s nurse does not return calls frequently, or if she is rude, you’re going to have a problem. It doesn’t matter how great the doctor is if no one ever returns your calls. If the nurse thinks she knows everything, and won’t listen to you about the actual situation, she’s not going to give you good advice. Again, it’s not the doctor’s fault, but it does affect the quality of healthcare your child will receive.
3. The Waiting Area
I know what you’re thinking about this one…why does the waiting area matter? As long as there are comfortable chairs and a TV playing the latest episode of “Doc McStuffins” what else is there to worry about?
It’s a doctor’s office, for crying out loud! For every kid that tromps through that waiting area for a well child check-up, there are ten more that come through with colds, the flu, bronchitis, stomach bugs…the list goes on.
You may think those toys and books they keep in the waiting room are such a great idea when you go in for your interview with the doctor before your baby is born. “Yay! Books and educational toys!” you think, “That’s such a better choice than TV to keep little ones occupied while they’re waiting! And these couches…they’re so comfortable! I like this office. They’re really considerate of their patients!”
Run away. Run away as fast as you can! Couches can’t be disinfected. I don’t care how conscientious the staff is, they cannot disinfect all those toys in the waiting room after every single child touches them. How does one disinfect a book, anyway? Or wooden toys? Here’s my big news…they can’t. So, in about 18 months, when you’ve come into the doctor’s office for your child’s check-up, they’re going to want to play with the toys. Have you ever tried to explain to an 18 month old that they can’t play with the toys because of germs? Let me save you the trouble…it doesn’t work very well. Now you’ve got a very upset toddler who doesn’t understand why Mommy won’t let him play. All of a sudden, those things that looked so welcoming when you first visited have become agents of doom. There are viruses lurking on the cushions, bacteria oozing off the pages of those books, and that kid sitting across from yours at the child-sized table coloring sure looks like he’s running a fever!
Am I paranoid? Quite possibly. But, we’ve had to leave a doctor that we really liked a lot because our kids got sick every time they walked through that clinic door. Even after I banned them from touching the toys and books, they continued to get sick after every visit. One of these visits resulted in bronchitis that landed Bear in the emergency room one night…she couldn’t breathe. Since we homeschool, and don’t actually go out all that often, it was really quite simple to track down the source of infection. It was the doctor’s office. I’m sure they tried very hard to keep things clean. The waiting room always looked nice, neat, clean and tidy. But, there are things you just can’t clean well enough. And, their waiting room was full of them!
There are so many things to think about when you’re choosing healthcare for your baby…when you’re choosing everything for your baby, really. I hope I’ve given you some food for thought to help you along in your quest. I wish you luck in finding just the right place for your family!
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