You know what you want for your child -- the best doctor possible, right? When looking for a pediatrician, you're of course going to want to find someone who knows their medical stuff. But there are other criteria to consider when picking the practice that will become your medical home base. Children with special needs visit their doctor more than most kids, have more involved histories than most kids, wait worse than most kids, require more parental advocacy than most kids. Incorporate those things into your pediatrician search by weighing these five factors carefully:
LocationEnsuring your child has a super doctor with lots of good references may seem worth driving a long distance for, but if your little one requires frequent office visits -- particularly in the case of acute illness -- those long trips may become problematic. Balance your need for the "perfect doctor" with your need to have a normal family life and timely attention. A doctor who's out of town may require you to go to a hospital that's farther away and specialists who require a long commute as well. Location shouldn't be your only criteria, but it's an important one to keep in mind.
Size of PracticeBig practices give you the highest likelihood of experience, expertise, and insurance know-how. They also give you the highest likelihood of long waits, impersonal service, and revolving-door doctors. Your needs and your child's will determine whether one is worth the other. But if you want to make sure you see the same familiar physician at every visit, and that those visits won't take hours, check out smaller practices with one or two doctors on staff. Even the best doctors will be less effective if a child is cranky from waiting, or just another anonymous chart on the pile.
ExperienceGetting a doctor with great experience in your child's particular area of need can be a big help, since it ensures that he or she will know what to look for, what tests to order, what signs to watch for, and what questions to ask. But it also means the doctor may be less willing to respect your ideas and perceptions, to pursue things outside the conventional wisdom, or to consider other possibilities. If you're comfortable with your ability to do research and ask questions, a doctor with less experience but a willingness to collaborate may be just as good a choice for your child as a more acknowledged expert.
AvailabilityDoes the pediatrician split his time between two practices? Does she travel often for seminars or volunteer activities? Does he charge for weekend phone calls? Will off-hours crises throw you into the hands of an on-call doctor who doesn't know your child and family? The more involved your child's care becomes, the more the answers to these questions will matter. Make sure you're comfortable with how available your doctor is likely to be in your times of curiosity and need.
PersonalityChances are you're going to be spending a lot of time with your child's doctor; you might as well like him or her. Schedule a "get to know you" session before you make a choice -- and if the doctor won't agree to one, take that as a warning. Whether you're looking for somebody who's super-serious and no-nonsense, fatherly and wise, or funny and friendly, a 10- or 15-minute chat should be enough to let you know whether a particular doctor is someone you can work with. Trust your instincts here. For the doctor you will be trusting to be your child's medical gatekeeper, people skills may be as apropos as medical ones.