Finding the right doctor: How to choose one for your child

Get to know a primary care provider who makes you and your child comfortable

Finding the right doctor: How to choose one for your child

For parents, finding a primary care provider for your child can be a daunting task. There are often many questions and factors you need to consider.

Health care needs for babies and children are different than they are for adults. It is important to find a provider who can care for a child as they develop. These primary care providers are essential for routine care, as well as for illnesses and injuries.

Developing a good relationship with a provider can make a difference that benefits your child as they grow older. Primary care providers for children can be pediatricians or family medicine providers. Pediatricians can care for children from the time they are newborns until up to 21 years of age and family medicine providers can care for newborns all the way through adulthood. Over the years they provide:

  • Routine care like well child visits
  • Preventive health including immunizations and screenings
  • Health education
  • Guidance and resources for caregivers
  • Care for illnesses and injuries
  • Referrals to specialists as needed

Sanford Health pediatrician Christina daSilva, D.O., of Sanford Children’s Campus in Bismarck, North Dakota, has some advice for parents on choosing the right provider.

What is the first step in finding a doctor for your child?

There are several ways to gather information when it is time to begin the process of building a relationship with your child’s provider.

“It can start with simply asking your friends and family who they see, or if they’re aware of someone who would be a good fit for their family,” Dr. daSilva said. “There are online resources, too, that can help you. For instance, we have videos posted that come with a message from the provider so you can get to know a provider before choosing one.”

Because trips to your baby’s provider are likely to occur more often than your own personal doctor visits, location and accessibility might also influence your choice.

If you are pregnant, it can be helpful to select your baby’s provider prior to their birth so you can make a plan for the first few weeks of appointments. It is also helpful to have your child receive care within the same health system where you get your care.

What questions should you ask a potential provider on behalf of your child?

Finding the right doctor can depend on the child. Does this child have complex medical needs? Are there any other concerns you need to consider?

“You want someone who can collaborate and work with the family and also be in contact with their specialist,” Dr. daSilva said. “That’s very important to have, especially if you have a child with complex medical care.”

Parental engagement – and lots of questions – are a vital part of the process of selecting a provider and building a relationship that often lasts for more than a decade.

“Obviously, communication is going to be the biggest asset to have,” Dr. daSilva said. “You have to be able to trust your child’s doctor and want to develop that relationship.”

If you’re looking to meet providers and get to know them first, Sanford Health offers meet-and-greets with families.

“Parents are more than welcome to call us if they would like to meet, and just ask questions or anything that we can help answer,” Dr. daSilva said. “Especially if you’re a first-time parent, because let’s face it, we’re never completely prepared for a baby.”

Sanford Health suggests a few questions to ask providers during your search:

  • Will your child see the same provider every time?
  • Who do you call if your child gets sick during the night or on weekends?
  • What are the office hours?
  • Are there weekend and/or evening hours?
  • How do you make an appointment?
  • How long does it take to get a well child appointment?
  • How long does it take to get a clinic visit appointment for a sick or injured child?
  • How long do you have to wait in the office before being seen?
  • How are payments and billing handled?

Why are regular well child visits important?

Regular well child visits provide health care professionals the chance to monitor the growth and development of your child. Well child visits consist of a physical evaluation, behavioral health screening, growth and development checks and immunizations.

Providers will check weight, height and head circumference to make sure the child’s growth is tracking appropriately and will monitor hearing, vision, motor skills and social communication.

If they note any delays, providers will share resources available at Sanford Health and in the community.

“We have conversations with the parents about preventive care,” Dr. daSilva said. “We will talk about things in the future – all the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. We discuss all those things during well child visits.”

Visits can change in frequency – they are often more frequent for infants – and in content.

“As a child gets older, we make sure that they’re growing appropriately and addressing puberty, onset of menses, which can be daunting for some,” Dr. daSilva said. “We will check blood pressure to make sure that there’s not hypertension and will check cholesterol levels as well.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a cholesterol screening (also known as a lipid panel) for ages 9 to 11. High lipids can provide more information on family history and genetics.

Parents rely on their provider to guide and inform them through their child’s developments. While there are many topics providers discuss with parents, Dr. daSilva said it really depends on the age of the child.

“If it’s a newborn visit, for example, the focus will be on fever, sudden infant death syndrome, keeping your baby safe and addressing popular beliefs and concerns,” she said.

However, as they age, their visits have a different focus.

“If it’s a 6-month well child check, I’m talking about how we need to put the crib on the lowest setting,” she said. “They’re going to be crawling and pulling to stand and getting into more trouble.”

What types of doctors are at Sanford for children?

Primary care: Sanford Children’s pediatric primary care providers offer the highest quality care for your child including regular checkups, parenting support and immunizations.

Pediatric specialists: Vary by location but within the Sanford Health system, families have access to a wide array of experts, including cardiologists, neurologists and surgeons, all of whom focus on the care of children.

What is most important in the health care of your child?

Dr. daSilva emphasized that having a Sanford Health doctor who is familiar with your child can come with both long-term and short-term benefits.

Access to pediatric specialists, coupled with Sanford Health’s longstanding commitment to children, make for a great partner for parents wanting the best for their children.

“The most important part of this is that families develop a rapport and a really good relationship with their providers so that they know their child,” Dr. daSilva said. “They know the social dynamics of the child and their history. It just makes it easier when a child is hurt or acutely sick that the primary care provider knows the child’s baseline.”

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Posted In Bismarck, Children's, Family Medicine, Health Information, Specialty Care