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How to Choose a Specialist

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If your child is diagnosed with a chronic or serious condition, choosing a pediatric specialist is quite possibly one of the most important decisions you will have to make.

Your child's specialist, like your pediatrician, plays a very important role in your child's health. To make the process of choosing the right doctor for your child a bit easier, here are a few suggestions to help you get started.

Where to begin

The best place to start is with your pediatrician. He or she will be familiar with doctors and hospitals in your area that specialize in your child's diagnosis. But don't feel like you have to go with this referral. Feel free to explore and interview other specialists so that you find someone that you and your child are comfortable with. It's a good idea to talk with your pediatrician about the referrals he or she is making, and why.

This will give you a good starting point for making your own list of questions and reasons for selecting a specialist. Then, whether you ultimately go with the pediatric specialist your pediatrician has referred or chosen someone you feel more comfortable with, it's a good idea to discuss your decision with your child's pediatrician. Good communication among all caregivers is an important part of your child's care.

Does my child need a specialist?

There is no hard and fast rule about when to use a pediatric specialist. Depending on where you live, it's possible that choice might not even be an option. The thing to keep in mind is that children are not miniature adults. Their bodies are still developing and they have special needs and may respond differently to certain treatments or care than adults. Specialists who are certified in pediatrics offer the most child-friendly care, and the kids are what it's all about.


Is the specialist board-certified in the type of care your child needs? Board certification means that the specialist has sufficient knowledge and skill in a particular area of expertise. To become board-certified in a specialty, pediatricians must pass a rigorous examination. To remain board-certified, pediatric specialists must continue their education in their pediatric specialty.


What kind of experience does the doctor have with regard to your child's specific condition? There are many subspecialties within each area of medicine so it's important to ensure that the specialist you choose has treated patients with your child's diagnosis. Also, keep in mind that if you interview a specialist who doesn't meet those requirements, he or she may be able to recommend a specialist who does.

Interviewing potential pediatricians

The following is a list of interview questions to help you in your search for a pediatrician. You may also find that the list brings up a few questions of your own. That's a good thing. Write those down as well and take them along with you. This should help you make a good, informed choice.

The right fit

Once you have narrowed your list to a few specialists who meet your requirements on paper, you will want to schedule an interview appointment. This is the time to ask questions directly so you can see and hear his or her response. Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • Does the doctor include the child in the care process? How?
  • Will the family be included as well?
  • How much time is spent educating the patient and family about treatment, care, and the decision-making process?
  • Will the specialist consider your pediatrician as part of the medical team?
  • Does he or she focus on a subspecialty or will you be working with his or her team, as well?
  • What hospital is the specialist affiliated with? Does the hospital offer tours if a stay or treatment is required there? Will the specialist coordinate the schedule of hospital care?

After your initial consultation, ask yourself if the physician seemed more interested in treating the child or the condition, or was it a balance of both. Then determine which is most important to you. Many patient families prefer a warm manner and feel that personality is a key factor in treatment. Others feel that exceptional talent can make up for less personality. At the end of the day, that choice is up to you and your child.

Whatever type of relationship you choose, it's most important that you trust the specialist's expertise, talent, and ability. After all, you are entrusting your child's care to them.

Other considerations

Insurance and payment for services
Depending on diagnosis and treatment required, specialized care can be very costly, especially if it's long-term or requires extensive surgery. It's important to make sure that the pediatric specialist you choose accepts your insurance. It's also good to understand any charges that may not be covered and how/when payment for those services is expected.

Location, location, location
If you live in a major city, chances are there is a pediatric health system near you, so you have lots of options. If you live in the suburbs, you may want to choose a specialist who has an office close to home. For those who live in rural areas, choosing a pediatric specialist can be a challenge. You want to choose the best doctor for your child, but you also want to consider distance. Can you get to the doctor easily? Do you have access to transportation? If the specialist is far from home, can you afford the time and possibly an overnight stay? All of these should be considered when choosing your child's specialist.

Keep track of your child's health

When your child has an illness, chronic condition or disability, keeping track of your child's medical history and needs can be overwhelming. Our family medical planner was created by families for families. From that very first newborn checkup, to immunizations, and even complex illnesses, our family medical planner will help you stay organized. It's one way to help simplify your life when things get complicated.

Find a Cook Children's pediatric specialist here