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Choosing Your Child's Health Care Provider

Babies and children are not just small adults--their health care needs are different. So, it is important to find a health care professional that can provide specialized care. As a baby grows and develops, a health care provider is essential for routine care as well as when illnesses or injuries occur. A pediatrician, family practice doctor, physician's assistant, or pediatric nurse practitioner can be your baby's primary care provider. The medical specialty dealing with children is called pediatrics.

What care does a primary care provider give?

These providers may care for children from the time they are newborns until 21 years of age.

They provide:

  • Well child care

  • Preventive health including immunizations and screening

  • Support

  • Education

  • Guidance for caregivers

  • Care for illnesses and injuries

  • Referrals to specialists as needed

Choosing a health care provider

Choosing a provider for your child is an important part of preparing for a new baby. There are many things to consider including their training and experience, as well as the office location, hours, and routines.

Finding a provider is not hard, but you need to begin as soon as possible. You can ask the health care professional who delivered your baby for names, and talk with other parents about their provider. It is often a good idea to meet with 2 or 3 prospective providers before your baby is born. Many health care providers offer a special time for parents to come and visit the office, learn about the providers and staff, and ask questions. There may or may not be a charge for this visit.

Listed below are some things to consider when choosing a health care provider:

Location

  • Is the office near your home or place of work?

  • How long does it take to get there during rush hour?

  • Is parking convenient?

  • Does the practice have more than one office?

  • Are the same providers at the same offices all the time?

The office

  • What are the office hours?

  • Are there weekend and/or evening hours?

  • How do you make an appointment?

  • How long does it take to get a well-child appointment?

  • How long does it take to get a sick-child appointment?

  • What about payments and billing? Is this provider listed on your insurance plan? What hospital is the provider affiliated with? Is this compatible with your insurance plan?

  • How long do you have to wait in the office before you are seen?

  • Is there a separate waiting area for sick children?

  • Do the office staff seem friendly and interested in children?

The provider

  • Ask about the provider's training and experience. Does he/she have a specialty or area of interest? Is he or she board-certified, and if so, has he or she re-certified recently?

  • Ask about the provider's opinion on immunization, and  use of medications, particularly antibiotics and over-the-counter medications. Does he or she prescribe medications over the phone?

  • Will your child see the same provider for all visits?

  • What happens if your child gets sick during the night or on weekends? Who do you call?

As you talk with the provider and the office staff, you will develop a sense of whether they have the same philosophy of child raising as you do. You can also talk with other parents to find out their experiences and recommendations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a referral service for help in finding a qualified health care provider or specialist.