Even before my husband and I learned that our baby would be born with a cleft lip and palate, we planned to find the best pediatrician we could. However, once we got the news about her medical condition when I was four and a half months pregnant, the task became a priority.
Since this would be our first child — well before the prevalence of Google and such websites as healthychildren.org and zocdoc.com — we relied, like most new parents at that time, on the recommendations of family and friends.
Over the last 17 years, since our daughter was born two months premature, not just with a cleft lip and palate but also a serious heart defect, we have spent many hours in the pediatrician’s office (including evenings, weekends, and even on several Christmas and Easter days) and on the phone with the supportive staff. We’ve learned that the nurses and front office staff are just as important as the doctor, particularly when it comes to promptly returning phone calls, answering questions, helping find the best specialists, and calling prescriptions in to the pharmacy quickly.
Things have changed a lot since our daughter was born, however. How should parents today choose a pediatrician? What should they look for? And what questions should they ask?
In my research, I’ve discovered that many pediatricians’ practices, such as The Center for Advanced Pediatrics (tcfap.com), with offices in Ridgefield, Darien and Norwalk, have evolved into facilities complete with cutting edge services, in-house X-ray and blood testing capabilities, extended hours, pre- and postnatal parenting classes, and much more.
Dr. Jeanne Marconi, one of TCFAP’s seven physicians, explains how the practice makes it possible not just for children to receive a comprehensive range of on-site services but also for the parents to receive as much support as possible. “We believe that pediatrics isn’t just about children’s health but about caring for the entire family every step of the way,” Dr. Marconi says. “Many families living in this area don’t have their nuclear family nearby, and we become that, providing the support — both medical and emotional — that they need.”
In addition to drawing blood and taking X-rays, administering IV fluids, performing minor surgeries on abscesses, doing splinting and stitches, and treating large infections, TCFAP offers baby basics parenting classes, breastfeeding support, a new moms group, CPR instruction, urgent care, and adolescent gynecology, as well as on-site specialists in fields like ADHD, pediatric psychiatry, and allergies and asthma, among others, and a comprehensive website.
Dr. Marconi advises expecting parents to look for a pediatrician who accepts their insurance and is an active member of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “When you’re looking for a pediatrician, ask yourself what size/type of practice you want, which hospitals do the doctors go to, what hours do they offer.… The practice needs to check off all your boxes, and meet your requirements,” she explains.
Dr. Jenn Gruen, a physician at Village Pediatrics (villagepedi.com), a Westport-based practice with four area “mom docs,” recommends that prospective parents look for a practice with accessibility — which is a question not just of office hours but also of who answers the phones after hours and on weekends, and what sorts of resources the office provides. “Does the office refer out if the child needs blood work? Does it offer basic dermatologic needs like warts, specialty care for asthma, etc.?” Dr. Gruen says. “The more the physician keeps in-house, the better coordinated and easier the care is for parent and child.”
She recommends that parents meet and talk with the physician, and see if they click. “Find out if the office has extended hours and walk-in hours, and see if the staff seems friendly, if the office is welcoming to children (toys, prizes, etc.), and if there is there a separate area to keep newborns and young infants from being exposed to older sick kids,” she advises. “These are just some of the things to consider.”
Village Pediatrics, which recently relocated to a new office overlooking a river, offers special areas for newborns and teens, a baby group run by a child psychologist with visits by the physicians, a child psychologist who also sees parents and children on the premises, and an extensive website featuring articles recommended by the physicians, books, websites, and other informational resources. “We treasure our personal relationships with our patients and love getting to know not only what medical issues children have, but also what makes them unique,” Dr. Gruen says.
Dr. Taryn Baer, a pediatrician at OPTIMUS Health Care Pediatrics (optimushealthcare.org), with offices in Stamford and Bridgeport, recommends that prospective parents look at the entire practice they are considering, and not just one physician within it, as they may need to take their child to one of the other doctors for a sick visit if their doctor is out of the office. She also suggests visiting the practice’s website to see if any of the pediatricians have any special interests — for instance, asthma or obesity. “Although they may not have trained in these specialties, their interest means that they and their colleagues work to keep up to date on the latest recommendations,” Dr. Baer says.
Other questions to consider, according to Dr. Baer: Do the doctors listen and ask follow-up questions to get more information? Are they willing to spend the time to explain their recommendations and practices? Do they offer to do more research to find alternatives? “You and your pediatrician may not always agree on everything, and that is OK,” Dr. Baer said. “What is important is that you are able to express your concerns and come away with a plan that is acceptable to both of you.”
The OPTIMUS office is staffed by both pediatricians and family practitioners, so the whole family can receive care in the same office and even by the same provider. Alternately, when a patient “graduates” from pediatrics he or she can easily transition to a family practitioner without having to change offices or transfer medical records.
For Dr. Katherine Noble and Dr. Henry Rascoff, owners of Sound Beach Pediatrics (soundbeachpediatrics.com) in Stamford, the practice’s mission is a simple one. They believe in providing academically based, accessible health care delivered with warmth and compassion; supporting the health of their patients, whether their problems are big or small; and making a commitment to their patients’ families, and to sharing the journey of parenting with them. And they believe in the power of community. “We believe in community outreach and involvement, and support community health education on a grassroots level,” the practice’s website states. “We share a community conscience, recognizing and seeking to address the diverse needs of families in lower Fairfield County.” The practice sponsored community such events as the 3 Mile Run, Kid’s 1 Mile Run, and BBQ in Old Greenwich last June, for example.
Sound Beach Pediatrics offers preventive care services for pediatric and adolescent patients from birth to age 23, as well as sick care services. According to the website, “You should always feel comfortable calling us with questions and we recommend that you bring your child in to see us if they are exhibiting illness or have minor injuries. We treat all general pediatric illness (fever, cough, rash, ear pain, sore throat, tummy pain, etc.). We also treat minor injuries — bumps and bruises, nursemaid’s elbow, minor lacerations — saving you a trip to the emergency room. We will always try to get you seen on the same day that you call.”