Every day several families bring their kids in to the Emergency Department with non-emergencies- runny noses, rashes, diarrhea. Then many times the mom, perhaps sensing our impatience with the inappropriateness of that visit, state “I called my doctor and they were too booked, and told me to come here.” Or worse, they might say “I don’t have a doctor for my child.”
Having your own doctor for your child is important. You know you have a doctor who cares, and listens. That doctor knows your child too, and has all the child’s past history at their fingertips. You have a place to go for check-ups, sports physicals, shots, and questions. If you go to an Emergency Department or quick-care clinic, its pot luck. Maybe the doctor will care and listen well, maybe not. Maybe they know kids, maybe not. They certainly won’t know your child well.
What if you are a new parent, or new in town? Or what if you want to change doctors? Here are the things that help you find a good doctor for your kid:
1. The doctor is “Board-Certified” in Pediatrics or Family Medicine- The national boards only certify doctors who have demonstrated through testing and credentials that they are keeping up-to-date in their field.
2. Full-time Practice- It is important that your doctor, or covering partners, are available as much as possible. The best practices have evening and weekend hours for working parents. And of course, the practice should have doctors with around-the-clock phone availability in case of emergencies.
3. Reputation- it is nice that people you know recommend a doctor, but a bad comment doesn’t necessarily mean the doctor is bad. Even the best doctor can’t please everyone all of the time. However, recommendations from other doctors carry a lot of weight. Doctors work with each other all of the time and know who are the hot-shots and who are the slackers.
4. Fellows of the American Academy of Pediatrics or American Academy of Family Physicians- These doctors will have the initials after their name FAAP or FAAFP, as in Scott Hamilton, MD, FAAP. This designation is icing on the cake of Board Certification. This means that the doctor is a member of the national professional organization that provides the most up-to-date information in their field. The AAP and AAFP work with the national boards to develop practice standards. The AAP and AAFP also are active politically to help governments in the United States and abroad provide the best care for children.
5. The doctor is a good listener- as I have stated elsewhere in this blog, most diagnoses are made from the patient’s story, so your doctor needs to be a good listener to be a good doctor. There is an old adage that you would rather have a mean doctor that knows the latest cures than a nice, hand-holding doctor that will kill you through incompetence. In truth, wouldn’t you rather have both? Professionalism demands that doctors be both good and kind listeners, and up-to-date in their practice.
These days, with blitzes of advertising of doctors, clinics, and hospitals, these are the hints that can help you find a good medical home for your child’s care.