Someone asked me the other day how to go about choosing a GP for her newborn baby. This immediately brought back memories of the medical merry-go-round we went through in my kids’ early years. With recurrent ear infections and conjunctivitis and the usual scary spots and coughs all kids seem to get, not to mention scheduled visits for immunisation and referrals, we experienced a fair number of doctors in that time, spread over four different practices.
We had a main, preferred practice, where we saw a fantastic GP with a special interest in paediatrics. There was a great play area for kids, handy for the times we’d be waiting for up to an hour. However, in practical terms, it was a logistical nightmare. There was no parking nearby, there were lots of stairs, it had a narrow doorway to negotiate with a pram, and there was no open clinic – so you had to know in advance when your child would get sick. Yeah, right. Hence our regular visits to the other three practices, depending upon the day of the week, the time of day, the level of urgency, how I was getting around that day and whether my back was up to the battle of Pram vs Stairs.
Here are some tips for choosing a doctor for your child based on my family's experiences:
- Ask the nurses/midwives at your early childhood centre for local recommendations. Friends, neighbours, daycare staff and so on are other potential sources of information.
While a GP near work may be convenient, local GPs near home are good because they get a sense of what's 'going around'. However, if your child is going to daycare or school in another area, you should take that into consideration.
A GP that offers open clinic times as well as set appointments is your best bet. You can't choose when your child gets sick!
- Some GPs have links with an after hours service at a local hospital or another practice (see above re: inability to choose when child gets sick). This relationship is useful because if you use the service they will communicate back with your child's GP and it will be added to your child's history.
- Does the practice bulk bill? Some do for children, even if not for adults. If not, you should find out the out-of-pocket expenses and whether there are different payment requirements for appointments vs open clinic visits.
The bigger multi-practitioner clinics ('medical supermarkets') with lots of different doctors can be a good option because even if you end up seeing different doctors each time, at least your history is in the one place. Some allow appointments, open clinic is standard, and they're also more likely to be open after hours and at weekends than smaller practices. They may also have other health professionals like practice nurses, dietitians, counsellors and so on in the same practice.
- Many children's health problems are fairly common and easily dealt with, but they are often unique to children - so you might want to look for GPs with experience in kids health. Some GPs get further qualifications in paediatrics, and may be called a 'GP with a special interest'.
Don’t forget practical issues: consider nearby parking, proximity to public transport and pram access. Is the waiting area suitable for children? Considering how long you might end up waiting, this is a useful thing to consider!
Please tell us about your experiences with your child’s doctor (no names please!) that may help others when they’re choosing one.