Firing Your Pediatrician: When It's Time

Your pregnant neighbor asks for the name of your pediatrician, and you realize you really don’t want to refer her to that practice. Your response is telling: You may be surprised at your feelings — or realize a change is overdue.

But should you dump the doctor who knows your kid’s entire medical history?

A pediatrician specializes in the health of newborns and all children up to and including teenagers. A good one is a constant throughout the formative years. Some parents find a pediatrician after careful interviews and research. Others are assigned one at a child’s birth and decide to stay with the practice for years.

But relationships evolve over time. While one doctor might have been the right choice for you and your newborn, it’s time for a change if any of these seven scenarios are a common experience.

1: You Wonder How Much Your Doctor Cares
Perhaps you call to inquire about symptoms (is it strep?) and the staff insists you come in. Yet the doctor barely glances at your child and declares it a simple virus. Or worse, the entire appointment is rushed and you’re basically shoved out of the room. Maybe you never even see your doctor, but only an associate.

Remember, the pediatrician is your consultant. He or she should examine your child and listen to your concerns. Dr. Leana Wen, co-author of "When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests," points out several reasons doctors seem distant these days: They have too many patients to see; they rely more on technology than dialogue to unearth health issues; and younger doctors are trained to focus on tests and treatments rather than actual patients. If you feel your doctor isn't listening or your child is just a quick insurance payment, it's time to move on.

2: The Office Lacks Management
The office phone is habitually busy. Your request for a same-day appointment is met with silence. The office is understaffed. You've sat in the waiting room an hour past your appointment on a regular basis (the national average is 19 minutes). Find someone more available when your child needs medical attention.

3: The Staff is Rude
No bones about it — the staff is rude, whether it's the snippy scheduler, the obnoxious check-in staff, the nurse who rolls her eyes at your questions, or the billing department employee who refuses to correct mistakes (or admit them). If your pediatrician's staff is a problem, give the doctor a chance to address it. But if nothing improves, it's time to find a place that doesn't make you grit your teeth before calling.

4: You Worry About Your Child's Comfort
Is your child approaching puberty? Perhaps your daughter suddenly avoids the male pediatrician she's had since birth, or your son insists you ask his female pediatrician no "embarrassing" questions. It's time to find a new doctor for your child during the transition into young adulthood.

5: Your Child's Issues 'Baffle' the Doctor
Your child has a recurring concern — a rash or odd fever — and the doctor won't send you to a specialist. Doctors are human. They can't know everything. But if your child's symptoms are baffling him, it's not about his ego. Ask your insurance company for a referral and the name of a new pediatrician.

6: Your Doctor Ignores Your Concerns
You think your child has a bigger issue — a serious illness, special needs or mental health concerns — and your doctor pooh-poohs the concerns. Not good. Dr. William Ohriner, a pediatrician at Inova Fairfax Hospital, advises, "If you feel like you are getting blown off, and they are not listening to you, I think it’s time to get a new pediatrician." Parents should not have to battle their child's doctor — a hired advocate, mind you — when they have genuine fears about their child's well-being.

7: Your Choices Get No Respect
Whether you breastfeed your children, use formula, vaccinate, delay or avoid vaccinations, you are constantly pressured to change your mind. And when you don't, you receive condescending comments about your lack of medical knowledge. It's OK to disagree on some things, but life is too short for an unsupportive pediatrician. Find one with similar values and an open mind when you have differing opinions.

The American Board of Pediatrics points out that while all doctors must be licensed to practice, only those who go on to successfully complete a specialty residency training program can apply for board certification. The difference? Board-certified pediatricians continue to learn, and receive ongoing training in new treatments and medical care methods, which means they are voluntarily keeping updated on the latest advances in pediatrics.

If you think it's time to make that move, trust your gut — and find the best health care professional you can.

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