Ask Dr. Karp is a monthly Q & A series with world-renowned pediatrician Harvey Karp. Each month, he'll join us on the our site Blog to answer questions from our fans.
Q. I am pregnant with my first baby, and we're meeting with a potential pediatrician tomorrow. How can we tell if the pediatrician is a good fit for our family?
Dr. Karp: When your parents were having babies, they usually got a recommendation from their OB or just used the local pediatric office. But in the last 20 years it's become customary for parents to interview two or more pediatricians before making a decision.
This comparison shopping makes a lot of sense, but most moms will tell you that it feels weird. After all, did you interview your internist or dentist? What are you supposed to ask?
Well, it turns out that this interview process is a great idea! You can see whether you're treated with respect or intolerance, calmness or impatience. (And it's usually free!)
The key questions you should ask fall into two main categories: philosophy and practicality.
Discussing philosophical issues helps you find a doctor with whom you see eye to eye. Common philosophical questions parents ask include:
Do you recommend swaddling and white noise to help a baby sleep?
What's your position on breastfeeding versus formula?
What are your suggestions for me to help keep my baby healthy?
Do you recommend all the immunizations, and do you allow flexibility in the vaccine schedule?
What do you think about organic food?
Of course, you can love your doctor, but if the office is poorly run you'll hate the practice! So it's equally important to ask some very practical questions, such as these:
What are the hours of the practice, and what happens if a child needs to be seen after hours? (Is the child seen at the office? Sent to an ER? Cared for by a totally different doctor?) Can you always get a same-day sick visit?
Do you always get to see your child’s doctor?
How much time does the doctor schedule for each sick visit? Each well-child visit?
How long does it take for the doctor to return your call during office hours? After hours?
How often is your doctor on call?
What insurance plans does the office take?
Finally, spend 30 minutes in the waiting room, to observe: Are the nurses and receptionists cold, or warm and engaging? And don’t be shy – ask a few of the parents about their experiences with the practice.
You may be lucky and fall in love with the first doctor you meet! But in general, it’s a good idea to speak with two or three doctors so you'll feel at peace with your choice.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.