When Nick Braun and his wife, Melissa, needed a pediatrician for their son, Austin, who's now 1 year old, they had three doctors in mind. Unsure who was the best match, they decided to visit each one in person.

Stepping inside the doctors' offices made it easy to choose, says Braun, who's the founder of a pet insurance company and lives in Columbus, OH. As soon as they met "Dr. Rob," they knew he was the one. He was patient, friendly, and supportive, which was just what they needed as first-time parents.

Visiting a pediatrician's office is an important step in making a final decision. You'll meet the staff, check out the space, have your questions answered, and get a sense of whether he's right for you and your child.

What to Expect

You'll probably meet with the office manager or nursing staff. It's possible you won't get to see the doctor because he's busy with patients, says Bill Bush, MD, pediatrician-in-chief at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI. But to make sure you get a face-to-face interview, tell the receptionist when you make the appointment.

What to Look For

Keep your eyes open and you'll notice more than you could over the phone.

Cleanliness. Look around. Is the waiting area clean and orderly? Do the exam rooms look safe and sanitary? Are they child-friendly and baby-proof?

Does the office have separate entrances or waiting rooms for sick children to prevent germs from spreading?

Friendliness. Some parents want a doctor who's warm and outgoing. Others prefer someone professional and straightforward. There's no right or wrong, just what feels good to you.

When you meet the doctor, make some mental notes about his personal style:

  • Does he welcome your questions?
  • Do you feel like he explains things carefully?
  • Are you treated like you're a partner?
  • Is he a good listener?
  • Do you feel comfortable or intimidated?
  • Is the visit relaxed or rushed?

Check out the staff's personalities, too, Bush says. How do they interact with the doctor? Are they polite and friendly with you? How do they approach parents in the office or on the phone?

Take in the general vibe. Is it cheerful and upbeat? Or drab and somber?

"You can walk into an office and get a pretty good idea if it's bright and happy or whether everyone appears to be stressed," Bush says.

Location. How long did it take to get to the office? Is there potential for traffic during rush hour?

It's usually best to find a doctor near your home rather than work or daycare, Bush says. Kids are usually home when they're sick, and you may take a day off to be with them.

Wait time. When you're in the office, check how many kids are waiting to be seen. If it's packed, it may be a sign that they overbook.

What to Ask

When you meet with the doctor or staff, be prepared with a list of questions.

Philosophy. Find out if your doctor is in sync with your parenting style and beliefs. Ask him how he feels about what's important to you, like breastfeeding, circumcision, antibiotics, nutrition, or alternative medicine.

Hours. What's their regular schedule? Do they see patients in the evening or on weekends? Many practices have flexible or extra hours to help working parents.

Find out about their telephone polices. Does the pediatrician have a call-in hour for new parents with questions? Is there an advice line where you connect with a nurse?

If you reach the answering service when the office is closed, how long will it take for a doctor to get back to you? What's the process for emergency visits? How quickly will your child be seen?

Technology. Some practices streamline communication with technology. Can you make appointments and fill out forms on their website? Are your child's medical records available online? How about test results?

Practice details. If it's a group practice, who are the other doctors? Can you request a specific one, or will your child see whoever's available? What happens when your pediatrician is on vacation?

Is the doctor included in your insurance plan? Which hospital is the practice affiliated with? Will the doctor come to the hospital to examine your baby after he's born?

Braun and his wife knew they had a good list of finalists when they were shopping for a pediatrician. But meeting the doctor sealed the deal.

"He had young children, great credentials, and seemed to care just as much about our worries as first-time parents as our son's health," Braun says. "They've been awesome, and we're so glad we did our research."

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