Excerpt: 'Eat, Sleep, Poop' by Scott Cohen

Just as you would never buy a car without doing your homework and test driving it first, you should not only speak to potential doctors but also be knowledgeable about their practices. Remember, this will be a long relationship and you want it to be as comfortable a fit as possible. So consider the following factors.

Office Size
Inquire as to how far in advance the doctor is booked. This will give you an idea of how hard it may be to get an appointment. The number of doctors in an office, as well as the number of exam rooms, will help you figure out how long you might be stuck in a busy waiting area. There should be at least two exam rooms per doctor. How large is the waiting area? This is where you are going to spend most of your time with your anxious child and other noisy little ones. A waiting room that is large and fun may offset the wait time, compared to a small crowded waiting area. A smaller office, on the other hand, may have a more personal feel.

Age
A young doctor may be more up-to-date on current procedures and treatment options than an older doctor, but will not have the same amount of practical experience. The key is not how old the doctor is, but his willingness to ask for help when it is needed and refer to a specialist if required. You might consider a younger doctor if you want your child to have the same physician throughout childhood, since an older doctor may retire before your child is grown.

Gender
Some parents think a girl should have a female doctor and a boy a male doctor. Although this may be true for older children and teenagers who have a hand in picking a new doctor, your pediatrician's gender should not matter if your child has been with that doctor since birth. Your child will grow up with her doctor and her trust in that person will grow as well. What's most important is that you choose someone with whom you feel comfortable.

Common Sense Bottom Line Don't worry about choosing a male doctor for your baby boy or a female doctor for your baby girl; go with the person you feel most comfortable with. Patient-doctor trust will deepen with time.

Board Certification You should make sure that your pediatrician is board certified. You can easily find out by asking the doctor or looking on his business card for the initials F.A.A.P., which stands for Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. You can also go to the American Board of Pediatrics website at www.abp.org. Board certification means that your doctor has kept up to date with the field and taken a test to prove it. Pediatricians need to recertify every ten years by written examination.

Availability Most doctors have standard nine-to-five hours Monday through Friday, but it is important to know whether your prospective pediatrician has office hours on weekends or in the evening, which may save you a trip to the emergency room or urgent care. Most doctors will make themselves available by phone, and many are accessible via e-mail. Ask your physician if he is available by phone or e-mail and how quickly he is able to respond. Also inquire as to the availability of nurses or other support staff for phone consultation.

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