Is It Time to Break Up With Your Pediatrician?

Medically Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on July 12, 2017
4 min read

You've picked out a pediatrician for your baby and at first everything seems great. But like other relationships, over time, sometimes things don't work out like you planned. How do you know it's time to make a clean break and get a new doctor? Watch for warning signs that you need to move on.

Sarah Blackburn, who lives in Buffalo, NY, knows this problem firsthand. When she interviewed her pediatrician before her baby was born, she had a good feeling about him. But at her son's 2-month visit, she felt super rushed.

"The doctor didn't explain the shots he was going to give him, and when he examined my son, he didn't even flip him over," Blackburn says. While she chalked up the rushed appointment to his busy schedule, she started having second thoughts about whether this pediatrician was the right fit.

"The most important thing is you want to feel like you've been listened to and heard," says David Hill, MD, an adjunct assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and author of Dad to Dad: Parenting Like a Pro.

"If you feel like you're getting rushed out the door," he says, "without your doctor answering all of your questions and without feeling like you understand everything your doctor discussed, then it may not be the right doctor for you."

At the same time, it's important to be realistic about how long a visit should last. "If your child has swimmer's ear, it can take 7 minutes to have your doctor examine your child and walk out the door with all of your questions answered and a prescription sent to the pharmacy," says Ari Brown, MD a pediatrician in Austin, TX, and co-author of Baby 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Baby's First Year.

The bottom line: It's not always about how much time your doctor spends in the examining room, but the quality of the visit.

Sometimes doubts start to creep in about your pediatrician's decision-making. When Blackburn's son was 3 months old he came down with a cold that turned into something worse. "He was running a fever, couldn't breathe through his little nose, and after a night with zero sleep, I called the doctor and went in that same day," she says.

Again, she felt rushed, and she left with a diagnosis of a blocked nasal passage and a prescription for antibiotics. "I wasn't exactly happy with that diagnosis," she says. "Did that mean he had a sinus infection?"

Her concern grew when she went to pick up the prescription. Her insurance company had flagged it because it was a much higher dose than what's considered right for a 3-month-old. The pharmacy called the doctor's office and asked for a new prescription with the correct dosage.

"What scared me most," she says, "was that if I was handed the bottle at the original prescription, I would've given it to my son."

At that point, she knew it was time to cut ties with her pediatrician. "That, coupled with the treatment we received at the 2-month visit, confirmed that we were done," she says.

A well-run office is a key part of your child's medical care. Even if you're satisfied with the doctor, a disorganized staff can be a trouble spot that might mean it's time to look for a new practice.

Amy VanStee, an editorial director in Chicago, always had a positive relationship with her 5-year-old son's pediatrician. "He's highly experienced and well-regarded, with a special health focus that fits our son's needs," she says.

Lately, though, she's been disappointed with the office. "The last few times we've had to make an appointment or contact his office, we've received poor service, such as conflicting or untrue information, like whether the pediatrician can perform an eye exam or how to handle storing a medication," she says. "Recently they gave us some confusing information about which vaccinations our son needs. The vaccination situation scared me because of the possibility of our son receiving a shot he wasn't due for."

Hill says that even if you like your pediatrician, you may want to find another doctor if the clinic doesn't run the way you need it to. "If you're not getting your calls returned, if they're not filling out forms that you need, if they don't seem organized, or if they're messing up appointments, it might not be the right setting for you," he says.

Having different philosophies on important health and parenting issues can create a lack of trust between you and your pediatrician.

It doesn't mean you need to agree on everything, though. "Like every good relationship, there should be respect for a difference in opinions," Brown says.

It's a fine line, but if you feel like you have to lie through your appointment or feel like you're being judged, then it's probably not a good match for you, she says.

Once you've decided to end a relationship with your pediatrician, it can be a straightforward process. When you find another doctor, contact the office of your old one and have it send your child's medical records to the new practice, Hill says. "You want to make sure there's a smooth handoff with the next provider to preserve the continuity of care."

If you haven't found a new doctor yet, in most instances you can have the office send the records to you. "Due to privacy laws, there are some exceptions in which confidential parts of a record may go to a teenage patient and not the parent," Hill says.

Whether you decide to break away from your pediatrician or stay put, keep focused on what's most important: safeguarding your child's health.