Choosing the Right Physician for your Child
Empower yourself and provide the best care for your child.
When you first chose a pediatrician for your child, you probably did a fair bit of research. You may have asked friends for recommendations, looked up “best general practitioner” or “best pediatrician” on the internet, or called your insurance carrier for a list of providers to consider. Once you had the facts, you made the most informed decision you could.
It may feel different when you are faced with an emergency or require a specialist for a pressing healthcare issue. You may feel compelled to make a quick decision under pressure. You may feel that you have only one option for an uncommon or complex condition. But that is not true.
Here are a few things you can do to empower yourself and provide the best care for your child:
First of all, ask the physician making the referral for you if that is the specialist he or she would use for his or her own children. Then, when you meet the new physician or surgeon, ask questions directly related to the care you seek and be sure that you are completely comfortable with the answers. Treat it like an interview, and don’t be shy about asking that doctor about his or her qualifications. Experienced doctors should be willing to talk openly and offer specific examples of their experience with a specific issue or situation. Doctors should not be insulted or make you feel bad for asking. They know this is a big decision you’re making.
Often, important questions aren’t related solely to the physician you meet, but to the other members of the group as well. If the medical problem you’re facing requires ongoing care (i.e., admission to a hospital), then it’s likely that your child will at some point be cared for by at least one of the physician’s partners. It is important to find out: What is the reputation of the group as a whole? Do the physicians work and communicate closely with each other? Do the physicians who provide coverage for your doctor have the same qualifications and experience?
When you choose a physician, you’re often choosing his or her group as well, so it is the collective experience of the group that is most critical to your child’s care in a complex medical situation. Many conditions are rare in children, so even though individual physicians of the group may have only seen the problem a few times, the collective experience of the group may be quite extensive.
Ask as many questions as many times as you feel necessary, to understand each step in the process. Take written notes if you need to share information with your spouse. Then ask yourself if you trust the opinion you have been given. If you are still not sure, ask for a second opinion. Again, you will not be insulting a good physician when you make this request.
Remember that even if you’re in the emergency room in the middle of the night, you can ask these questions. The only exception is if your child needs an immediate, life-saving intervention. In that case, please defer to the emergency department specialists. Once your child has been stabilized, make sure you receive a clear explanation of the situation.
Your child gets your best every day. And your child deserves the best of your physician, too.
Dr. Andrew Schulman is a board-certified Pediatric Surgeon with Pediatric Surgical Associates in Charlotte. For more information on patient/parent advocacy visit www.pedsurgical.com.