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5 Questions You Should Ask Your Baby's Doctor

You'll be seeing a lot of your pediatrician -- at least eight routine office visits in two years. Add earaches and fevers into the mix, and it might start to feel like you spend more time with your baby doc than with your partner!

While you may joke about the amount of time you spend at the pediatrician's office, entrusting your child's care to someone else should never be taken lightly. Finding a pediatrician who suits your needs -- and who you feel comfortable with -- will be one of the most important decisions you make as a new parent. The best way to start your search for a baby doc is to talk to parents you know and trust. Your obstetrician can also make recommendations, but your friends are more likely to understand your parenting style and needs. Be sure you ask your friends why they like their pediatrician. Your needs and desires could be different. You also can request a list of board-certified pediatricians from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Generally speaking, you'll run into two types of pediatricians: the solo doc and the group-practice doc. Both have their pros and cons. While you may enjoy more personal attention with the lone physician, he won't have the backup of several other pediatricians to handle his patients when he's out of the office. It's a trade-off that's ultimately your choice.

Once you have a list of your top picks (don't forget to make sure they're accepting new patients and your insurance), you should arrange interviews. It's a good idea for both you and your partner to attend, to make sure you're on the same page. Ask any and all questions that come to mind, including:

How will my phone calls be handled? Some pediatricians have a specific call-in period each day when you can phone with questions, while others will return calls as they come in throughout the day. If members of the office staff routinely answer these calls, consider asking what their training is. Also ask your pediatrician for guidelines to help you determine which questions can be resolved with a phone call and which require an office visit. Ask, too, if communicating via email is an option.

What hospital is the doctor affiliated with? Ask where you should go if your child becomes seriously ill or is injured and whether this is the only place where your doctor can treat your child. Once you find out, make sure that hospital accepts your insurance.

What if I need help after hours? Find out if the pediatrician takes her own emergency calls at night. If not, how are such situations handled? Also, ask if she sees patients in the office after regular hours, or if you must take your child to an emergency department or urgent care center.

What if my doc isn't available? If the physician is in a group practice, another staff doc will probably cover. You might also want to meet the other members of the practice. If the doctor is in a solo practice, find out ahead of time what will happen if your child needs to be seen.

What are the costs of care? Your pediatrician should have a standard fee structure for hospital and office visits as well as after-hours visits and home visits (if he makes them). Find out if the charges for routine visits include immunizations. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the scope of your insurance coverage before you actually need services.

Above all, you need to feel comfortable with the pediatrician's philosophy and policies. You need to feel that can trust her and that your questions will be answered and your concerns handled compassionately. You also should feel comfortable with the staff and the general atmosphere of the office.