Articles and Topics
Choosing an ob/gyn
Q: When should I look for an ob/gyn? What kinds of questions should I ask and how many doctors should I interview? Do most pregnant women shop around, or do they usually just stay with the doctor who has been doing their routine pap smears?
A: Dear Beth,

You pose a very interesting question, one that I have pondered at great length. Surprisingly, I suggest you start your search by picking the best hospital in your area to deliver your baby (for more on this topic, read my article on this web site titled, Where Will Your Baby Be Delivered? Important considerations for choosing a hospital). I’d use the obstetricians affiliated with this hospital as my base list to continue my search. From there, I’d trim my list by talking to friends and family who might have delivered babies in your community. When the same doctor or group of doctors keeps popping up, you are getting warm.

If you have a relationship with a physician, he or she is an excellent source of information. Find out who delivered their children; I’d bet they have done their homework in this regard. Hospital nurses, administrators or resident physicians are other valuable sources of a good referral. If you are very determined, you can call the Labor and Delivery unit at your hospital and ask the nurses whom they’d recommend. Some hospitals have policies which prohibit them from giving you referrals, but you can tweak them by saying, “I’ve heard Dr. Bissinger is a nice doctor. Is he a good choice?” (And of course, they would say, “Yes!”) Other times, you may give them several options and hopefully they will come through with opinions.

By now you’ve got a decent list of physicians … it is time to call the office. Who or how was the phone answered? Was it easy to talk with someone or were you bounced from prompt to prompt by an automated system? Hopefully, you are now talking to someone in the office. You can ask if the doctor/doctors are board certified or board eligible in obstetrics and gynecology. (Certification is an indicator of at least a good standard of quality. Being board eligible is no crime; it usually means the doctor is just out of training and hasn’t been in practice long enough to take the test) Ask the staff member if there are midwives, nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants or other para-professionals who will be involved with your maternity care. Part of this exercise is a test of the office staff’s quality, as you will need their help scheduling appointments, tests and dealing with insurance issues.

Finally, you’re in the doctor’s office, ready to meet your prospective obstetrician. Before you enter the exam or consultation room, look around the office and at the other patients. Is the office clean? Is there a long wait? What is going on with the staff … does it appear to be mayhem or a well-organized office? Do the patients look happy? Ask them about the doctor, too. Seeing the doctor’s office in action can be very valuable and give you insights about the doctor’s ability and temperament.

Some patients bring in a series of pointless technical questions to screen the doctor. I’ve had patients ask me how I handle breech births or what my cesarean section rate is. The questions sound impressive and give an air of intellect to the prospective patient, but I can assure you that whatever I say factually will be way above their ability to judge me as a doctor. Remember what you want in this relationship: communication and competency. So pay attention to the connection between you and the doctor. Does he or she appear friendly and demonstrate a willingness to listen to you? Pregnant women ask loads of questions, so be picky.

If you like your gynecologist, Beth, and if he or she goes to the right hospital and gets high marks from your other sources, stay put. You won’t be disappointed. But if your gynecologist fails to meet your expectations, it is worthwhile using your yearly visit to screen for a new doctor. It’s fine to be a “shopper” and interview obstetricians until you find the right one, but there is no need to visit multiple doctors if you find one you like.

I hope my long-winded reply helps you find the right doctor/group. You may also want to read my reply to Liz in Port Angeles, in response to here question, “I’m midway through my pregnancy and unhappy with my obstetrician.”

Craig L. Bissinger M.D.