How to Find the Best Doctor for You
Taking care of your health is a life-long job. It is a job that is 100 percent your responsibility. But you must not overlook the importance of picking a smart, reliable, and caring health care team to give you guidance, insight, and support in meeting your health care needs. Your health care team will include a primary care doctor or nurse practitioner, specialists, pharmacists, and other health practitioners.
This article was written to give tips, strategies, and evaluation tools to help you build an all-star health care team.
Picking the Best Team Captain
Every great team needs a great leader. Your health care team captain will be your primary care doctor or nurse practitioner. She will be the person you go to see first when health problems arise. She will act as a wise dispatcher sending you to see the appropriate specialists if your health condition requires it. If you already have a primary care doctor or nurse practitioner that you are happy with, that’s great! If not, here are some suggestions for how to find one.
Where to Look
The “best” team captain for you may not be that Harvard or Johns Hopkins trained doctor in the community, especially if this person is too busy or unable to relate to you. The first step to take in your search for Dr. “Right” is to ask around. Ask friends, family members, co-workers, or anyone else for good referrals. Certainly if you know someone in the health care field, go after them first for referrals. Also consider using the Internet in your search. Try going to www.blackdoctor.org, www.familydoctor.org, www.healthfinder.gov, and a host of other Web sites on the Internet to help you find a potential doctor.
What to Find Out
Do some research on your own. Then, schedule a chat with your potential new primary care doctor. Look for answers to the following questions to convince yourself that he or she is the right health care provider and team captain for you.
- Is she board-certified and licensed in my state? This is a simple question to ask the doctor directly or office manager. A board-certified doctor is a doctor who has passed exams in a certain medical specialty. If you have access to the Internet, go to the American Board of Medical Specialties at www.abms.org or call at 1-866-275-2267 to check for yourself if the doctor is board certified. To find out if your doctor is licensed to practice medicine in your state go www.docboard.org and click on your state medical licensing board.
- Is this doctor accepting new patients? The best doctor in the world won’t do you any good if you have a medical need, but you can’t see the doctor for six months to a year. But if you have time to wait for that special doctor who comes highly recommended, be persistent. Call his or her office periodically to find out if the doctor can accept you as a patient. Persistence usually pays off!
- How many days of the week does the doctor see patients? You want a doctor who at least sees patients three days a week. There are some great doctors who are very involved in important clinical research, management, and other professional activities. These non-patient-care responsibilities can unfortunately get in the way of you having access to them when you need to.
- Where did the doctor go to medical school and residency? You want to find a doctor who went to an accredited medical school and residency program. Medical schools and residency programs have to meet certain academic standards to be an accredited program.
- Is this doctor considering retirement or relocation soon? Ideally you want to find a doctor who’s going to be practicing in your area for a while so a long-term relationship can be established. Going through the trouble of finding a great doctor then having to go somewhere else in a few years can be very painful and unhealthy.
- Does the doctor accept my health insurance? This is a simple and obvious question to ask. Clearly, you do not want to be stuck with a large bill just because someone at the front desk forgot to tell you that they do not accept your type of health insurance.
- Is this doctor known for spending quality time to ensure that the patient understands his or her health problems? This question is so important. If your health care provider does not take the time to explain, in simple terms, your health problems to you, how can you help manage them? Remember the day-to-day care of most health problems is mostly the patient’s responsibility. So, you really need to get an understanding of what’s going on from your doctor.
- Is this doctor able to relate to a person of my ethnic background? We all do not come from the same cultural background, share the same struggles, or interpret the world in the same way. Because of these differences, many misunderstandings can occur between two people who see and deal with the world differently. It is important to find a health care provider who understands who you are, where you are coming from, and how you express yourself.
- Does this doctor speak my natural language? The importance of your health care provider being able to speak your primary language needs no explanation. Two people trying to work together on the same problem with a language barrier between them is usually non-productive.
- Does this doctor see patients at my preferred hospital? Ask your doctor directly—or ask the office manager—at what hospitals does he or she have privileges to treat patients. After living in any city long enough, you will learn what hospitals you prefer, and what hospitals to avoid at all costs. Most doctors only see patients at certain hospitals, and if you end up in a hospital where your doctor does not have privileges to see patients, you will be on your own with a brand new doctor at your sickest moment.
Also, find out from your primary care doctor, in advance, who will be following you if you need to be in the hospital. A relatively new trend in health care is for some primary care doctors to not follow their patients when they need to be hospitalized. Instead, a hospitalist treats the patient and communicates with the patient’s primary care doctor during the hospital stay. A hospitalist is a physician who practices in the hospital and usually does not have a private practice. The care that hospitalists provide in the hospital can be good because they are very experienced in treating acute illness. But of course, he or she will likely be a doctor that you have never met before.
Tools for Choosing a Physician
Sometimes, just knowing how to do something or knowing the right questions to ask is not enough. We often need tools to go along with our know-how. Download the tools below (Q&A List: Choosing a Health Care Provider, Post New Doctor Visit Quiz, Doctor’s Visit Worksheet) to help sort out all the details that you’ll gather on your search for the best doctor.
Written by Jeffrey B. Brown, MD, FACP
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