Question: I care about organic food, chemicals in plastic, and making sure the lead paint in our old home is always well covered. My pediatrician is willing to talk to me about the lead paint, but is totally not interested in talking about plastic toys or sippy cups. How do I find a pediatrician who might share my concerns and be up to date on the latest information? — Sally, New Jersey
Answer: Such a good question! Parents know how hard it is to get a doctor on the phone for medical issues and those yearly office visits are so incredibly short. Most pediatricians have enough critical things they’re paying attention to as they check your children (development, eye sight and hearing, vital signs of your stomach-bug-inflicted baby, etc.). They don’t seem to have time to also be up on the latest environmental health studies, unless it happens to be their passion. Unfortunately, environmental health isn’t something doctors learn a lot about in med school.
But you’re right to want a doc who shares your concerns! Here are a bunch of questions to ask when meeting new pediatricians, to help stack the odds in your favor. Keep in mind that these questions won’t guarantee you a pediatric environmental health expert, but at least you’ll likely wind up in a practice that considers these critical issues. And that’s a pretty good start.
1. Is the doctor willing to talk about vaccines — delayed schedules and any questions you might have — without being dismissive?
2. Are there plastic — brightly colored and artificially flavored — tongue depressors instead of classic wooden ones?
3. Is the TV on full time in the waiting room?
4. Ask about things like chemicals in plastic, allergens, ingredients in sunscreen and other cosmetic products, water filtering, the importance of organic food, lead in old homes, and flame retardants in upholstered furniture. How does the doctor respond? A doctor should be able to address these basics; if they seem confused about why you’re asking, keep looking.
5. Do a sniff test. Is the doctor wearing perfume? Is there air freshener in the office? If you’re sensitive to fragrance, you won’t want to walk away from a check up with kids who smell scented.
6. Is the doctor in a group practice with other physicians? What is the approach shared by the practice?
7. Is this a Complementary, Alternative or Integrative Health (CAM) practice?
8. When does this pediatrician prescribe antibiotics and under what circumstances?
9. Are you comfortable talking to this doctor? Does he or she respond in language you can understand? Do you feel like your environmental health concerns are being dismissed?
10. What is given out as treats after shots or other procedures? Organic lollipops or stickers might signal one kind of approach, while temporary tattoos signal another.
Do a little homework. A website may spell out a practice’s environmental considerations and parents’ groups and friends are another good resource.
- What’s Environmental Health
- Putting Vaccination Concerns In Context
- 4 Quick Questions About Toddler Development With Dr. Alan Greene