A good time to begin your search is about 3 months before the baby is expected. If you’re in a managed health care plan, your choice of participating doctors who provide primary care for children may be limited, so be sure to check the plan’s online list (paper lists get outdated quickly).
Call and Ask Questions, Know Your Needs
If you have questions about whether a provider participates in your plan or if you’re interested in a doctor who isn’t on the list, call the health plan directly. Also call if your child has any special medical needs that would require an out-of-network doctor.
Once you know the limits of your health plan, compile a list of candidates from people you trust — your relatives, friends, neighbors, and coworkers who share your parenting philosophies. Your doctor, obstetrician, or nurse-midwife can also be a good source for recommendations.
If you’ve recently moved to a new area, you may not have personal or social connections established to ask for referrals. In this case, consider contacting area hospitals or medical schools for recommendations or ask the pediatric residents or nurses where they take their kids.
You also can request a list of board-certified pediatricians from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and board-certified family physicians (learn more about choosing between a pediatrician and a family physician) from the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Local hospital “nurse line” referral services, the local medical society office, medical directories in public libraries, and the yellow pages also can be helpful.
Once you have some recommendations, check them out more thoroughly. In each state, a medical board investigates complaints against doctors and may take disciplinary action, ranging from citing a doctor for nonpayment of certain administrative fees to suspending or revoking his or her license for criminal behavior.
Disciplinary action is rare but, fortunately, very easy for parents to uncover. In most states, the information is public and is posted by state medical boards on their websites.
Interview the Candidates
Now you’re ready to begin the interview process. Considering that this doctor will be the first to treat your baby, you’ll want to be sure that you’re comfortable with the doctor’s personality, office staff, location, and environment. A prenatal appointment is an excellent opportunity for parents to ask questions and get acquainted with the office staff.
Making a question checklist will help you organize your thoughts and be thorough during the interview. Some doctors offer group classes for expectant parents to learn about the practice and discuss newborn care, while others offer one-on-one interviews.
Many insurance companies encourage these prenatal appointments or classes and will cover any cost involved; however, be sure to check with the doctor’s office and your health plan first to avoid surprises.