First-time parents hunting for a pediatrician continue to rely on word-of-mouth from relatives, friends, co-workers or neighbors, according to local doctors. But much of today’s chatting goes on over an electronic back fence as prospective parents click on web sites, parenting chat rooms and blogs (some by doctors) to learn more about the person likely to be their “new best friend” in parenting.

“Parents still pick the pediatrician they feel they can be comfortable with, and I think they choose to rely on friends and family for referrals,” says Lesley Weghorn, pediatrician at St. Elizabeth Physicians at Crestview Hills Pediatrics.

“We understand more and more parents today utilize the Internet as a quick and easy way to find information about health care. Our web site, www.stelizabethphysicians.com, allows parents to find offices conveniently located near their homes or jobs with one click,” as well as bio and education background, she says.

Local hospital web sites and the American Academy of Pediatrics, www.aap.org, are often the first stops, followed by electronic visits to the web sites for pediatric practices before the selection is narrowed down for face-to-face talks.

Local sites for moms, including www.momslikeme.com, are ripe with exchanges, discussions, recommendations and rants on pediatricians. And Angie’s List, www.angieslist.com, where consumers share their reviews on local services, began including doctors in 2008. Inquiries for “pediatrics-primary care” landed the No. 8 spot of the top 10 most-searched health categories in the last year at the site. Health care reports on Angie’s List come from consumers and include letter grades on availability, office environment, staff friendliness, bedside manner, communication and effectiveness of treatment.

“Finding a pediatrician is one of the most important decisions you’ll make,” says Angie Hicks, founder of the ratings site. “Not everyone is looking for the same thing in their doctors. For some, bedside manner may be the most important thing; for others, convenient walk-in hours are top priority...our list broadens your circle of friends so you get dozens of opinions.”

When Lapha Palaniswamy and her husband Jeeva Kumar of Florence began to look for a pediatrician in 2009, they used a combination of word-of-mouth and Internet searches to find Rob Tagher of Pediatrics of Florence.

“My husband and I both work on computers every day so that was the first place we looked, and we asked colleagues as well,” she says.

They short-listed doctors, but were most impressed with the complimentary visit for prospective patients at Pediatrics of Florence ... and that the doctor would be visiting the newborn in the first 24 hours before leaving the hospital. “That was very important to me,” says Palaniswamy.

“We wanted a practice with multiple doctors so we didn’t have to depend on just one. I liked the way the office staff explained the process, and I liked their web site where they post articles on various topics. I can get updated information on vaccinations, flu, things like that.”

As busy working parents, the couple with two boys appreciates that they are seen quickly and on-time and that normally they can talk with a nurse within five minutes of calling with a problem.

Web sites, office visits

“We get a lot of new patients referring to the web site as the reason they chose the practice, not necessarily because of my blog,” laughs Tagher. “The blog lets us update patients in between newsletters and lets them see a different side of me. Most patients say they like the posts about my personal life more than the ones that have to do, say, with car seat safety.”

More new parents are asking for pre-natal visits, says Tagher. “That’s increased, and we see parents educating themselves while they are nesting and the baby is on the way.”

“Parents are now much more informed about well- and sick-care of their children,” says Weghorn, and come prepared with questions. “This helps us, as pediatricians, better meet their needs... One specific area that parents seem to question more frequently is immunization and safety. We talk about vaccines at each well-child visit to help parents feel comfortable with their decision.”

“Parents need to be confident in how the office works, says Tagher, especially the support staff. “Physicians may do the treatment the same but whether a patient gets in when they need to, gets prescriptions refilled – the people in the office outside the physician are extremely important.”

In the end “parents want to be able to put a face and personality with a name before the child is born,” says Weghorn.

“They want to feel comfortable with their choice. After all, they will be spending a lot of time with this person even if it is just for well-child care.”


Starting the Search

Check out the doc. Is the doctor in your insurance network? Does the doctor check out with American Academy of Pediatrics, www.aap.org, as a member? Do the letters FAAP appear indicating he or she has passed the American Board of Pediatrics Exam and is a Fellow of the Academy? Check with the Federation of State Medical Boards, www.fsmb.org, for possible disciplinary actions.