“It’s not you. It’s me.”
“It’s just not working out.”
“I think it’s time we see other people.”
Whatever words you use, it’s never easy to break up with someone … especially if that someone is your child’s doctor.
You probably had good reasons for selecting your child’s current pediatrician. Hopefully, your pediatrician is board-certified—that is, they’re current on all latest information and practices in their specialty—but maybe there’s just something else that’s not working out.
“There are a lot of things that come into play, and there’s a lot that you can’t find out just by researching someone’s credentials,” notes Dr. Alanna Levine, a pediatrician and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Regardless of why you’re switching doctors, it’s a good idea to notify the office that you’re leaving. If you’re not comfortable talking about it by phone or in person, you can write a letter. Regardless, be sure to request a copy of your child’s patient file so you can bring it to your new physician. It may take a couple of weeks for the office staff to get the copy to you, and be warned: some practices may charge you a fee. But you do want your child’s doctor to have a record of immunizations and other health issues, so it’s a fee worth paying.
If it’s time to break it off with your pediatrician—for reasons good, bad or otherwise—here’s the right way to go about it, making the best of the situation:
Situation: You’re moving.
How to handle: Perhaps the most common reason for switching doctors is a move. Notify your current pediatrician as soon as you can that you will be leaving and that you’ll need your child’s medical records. Then, before you head to your new home, swing by the office and pick up the records.
Situation: Your child wants to see a doctor of a different gender.
How to handle: Clinicians are trained to work with both boys and girls. But it’s not uncommon for a teenaged girl to prefer a female doctor, or for an adolescent boy to feel more comfortable with a male provider. “That’s a very personal issue, and it really depends on the child, too,” says Casey Lewis, a pediatrician with Pediatrics of Bullitt County, an affiliate of ONE Pediatrics in Kentucky. “Some kids don’t care and some really do care.” If you’re staying within the same practice, just ask the office staff if you can switch your child to one of the other doctors for their next appointment.
Situation: Inconvenient hours.
How to handle: The office or office hours are inconvenient for you and your schedule. But before you switch, do your homework. When you inquire if other pediatricians are taking new patients, be sure to ask about the hours. Are they open on weekends? Do they have well-child appointments available after 5 p.m. for working parents? You don’t want to change offices, only to find out that you’re not any better off than you were before switching.
Situation: Your insurance coverage has changed.
How to handle: Again, you don’t want to switch without knowing what you’re getting into. Check with your health insurance provider to make sure that you don’t change to another doctor who’s not covered under your plan.
Situation: You don’t have a good rapport.
How to handle: You’re not going to get along with everybody, but of all the people you want to get along with, it’s your child’s pediatrician. And there should be mutual respect. That’s the only way you can be partners in making sure your child receives the best possible care. If you do seek out a new doctor, Lewis suggests scheduling a consultation meeting to get a better sense of the pediatrician and his or her bedside manner and communication style. “Wherever you go, you have to feel like you have a good communication fit with that physician,” adds Lewis.
The situation: The wait times are too long.
How to handle: Are you always stuck out in the waiting room for a long time, or is it just an occasional long wait? Even the most efficient doctor is occasionally going to get behind schedule. But if it’s a regular pattern, you will need to decide if your relationship with the doctor is worth the wait. Be upfront with your physician that this is a problem; let the doctor know that you’re unsatisfied with the wait time and see what he or she says. If they imply that they’ll work on it, give it another visit or two. If there’s no improvement, it’s time to move on.
The situation: You don’t like the office staff.
How to handle: This is one reason that may tempt you to just slink away to another office and not say anything to your current one. “Don’t leave the practice over the front desk staff,” says Levine. Instead, speak directly to your child’s doctor or to the office manager about the issue. That’s also good advice if you’re concerned about other administrative issues, including wait times.
The situation: You’re concerned about your doctor’s recommendations.
How to handle: If you have questions about vaccine schedules or the use of antibiotics, the best thing to do is ask, says Levine, who often fields questions from concerned parents, listens to their concerns and then addresses them as thoroughly as possible. Your child’s doctor should do the same. If you’re not satisfied with their reasoning or feedback, it’s time to find a more compatible fit.
If for these reasons—or others—you decide that it’s time to move on, you should be confident in your decision. Be warned, though, that when seeking out a new doc, word of mouth is fine…up to a point. Levine notes that many people find pediatricians through referrals from friends, but don’t let a friend’s opinion be the main reason that you go with one particular physician.
“It’s a big decision,” she says. “And you really want to make sure it’s a good fit. Just because your best friend loves her pediatrician doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you.”
Lewis agrees. “Meet them first before you make any rash decisions,” she says, noting that some practices don’t readily re-accept patients who have left their practice for another one.