Choosing a primary care doctor is one of the most important health decisions you’ll make. And, thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act, there are more people with health insurance & more people than ever, searching for a physician they can call their own. But, it’s hard to find reliable, easy-to-understand information about specific doctors or practices. You can search Google, check out physician reviews on sites such as Yelp and Angie’s List, but do you really want to find a doctor the same way you do a restaurant or plumber? I hope not.
Many patients find doctors thru recommendations from other health care professionals, or from friends or family. But, what is good for them may not be good for you. Before you make a new appointment, here are some other things to consider:
- Check your insurance: Use your insurer’s directory or search on its website for doctors in your network. Because doctors often add or drop plans, call the office to verify that the doctor still accepts your insurance.
- Consider hospital affiliation: Your choice of doctor can determine which hospital you go to, if needed, so find out where the doctor has admitting privileges. Then use consumer reports hospital ratings to see how that facility compares with other hospitals in your area.
- Look for board certification: Being certified through the American Board of Medical Specialties means a doctor has earned a medical degree from a qualified medical school, completed three to seven years of accredited residency training, is licensed by a state medical board, and has passed one or more exams administered by a member of the ABMS. To maintain the certification, a doctor is expected to participate in continuing education. To see whether a doctor is certified, go to certificationmatters.org.
- Watch out for red flags: They include malpractice claims and disciplinary actions. Does your doctor carry malpractice insurance? Some states do not require physicians to purchase malpractice insurance like Florida. If it is not posted on the wall in the 0ffice you should inquire. Even good doctors can get sued once or twice, but you certainly don’t want someone who has had a lot of malpractice claims. Common reasons for being disciplined include substance abuse and inappropriate sexual behavior, though it can be hard to know exactly why a doctor was sanctioned. Most states let doctors continue practice while they receive treatment.
- Consider compatibility: More than half of Americans focus on personality and relationship when choosing a physician, according to a 2014 survey from The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (Just 29% said the delivery of care or the patient’s health outcome was most crucial.) Use your first visit as a litmus test. – – Does the doctor listen to you without interrupting? Does he/she fully answer your questions? Does she/he explain your diagnosis and treatment, and specify a date for a follow-up visit?
- Ask about drug reps: Many doctors let representatives from pharmaceutical companies into their offices to pitch their drugs. That not only takes up a lot of the doctor’s time but also may inappropriately influence his choice of drugs. Moreover, a doctor’s attitude toward drug reps can indicate how committed he is to practicing according to the best evidence, not pressures from industry.
- Find out about office policies: Ask how long it takes to make an appointment for a routine visit (it should be less than a week), whether they offer same-day appointments, and how long patients are kept in the waiting room. Once you’re a patient, if the reality doesn’t meet your expectations, consider shopping around. That’s important not only to save you time but also for your health.
- Scrutinize the staff: They are the people who will schedule your appointments, check you in and out, give the doctor your messages, and address insurance concerns. Look for a staff that’s friendly, efficient, and respectful. “Health care is a team sport,” said Lois Margaret Nora, M.D., J.D., president & CEO of the American Board of Medical Specialties. “People should expect quality in their doctor and the system in which the physician practices.”
- Factor in technology: Electronic health records let your doctor track your medical history, share info with specialists, and monitor all of your drugs. Many doctors also have a patient portal, a secured website that gives you 24-hour access to your health information, allowing you to book and track doctor appointments, get lab results, request prescription refills, and e-mail questions to your doctor. The government requires that health information be protected with passwords, encryption, and other technical safeguards. Still, ask how your information will be safeguarded. (Read “The Doctor Will E-mail You Now.”)
- Determine what kind of doctor you need. You’d be surprised how many different specialists treat the same symptom – depending on its underlying cause. Take “back pain” for example – should you see a primary care physician, an orthopedist, a neurosurgeon, an anesthesiologist, a rheumatologist, or a rehab specialist to evaluate your symptoms?
My Mom went to a physician who told her to take extra strength tylenol and see a Chiropractor when she started complaining about her back pain. Her visits at the chiropractor gave relief for 2 days, so she went twice per week. Then, she started having severe leg pain, she thought also came from her back problem. When we called Cleveland clinic to get a consult, she was told to see a neurosurgeon who gave her a shot to illeviate the leg pain and she did well enough to go away on vacation. We never thought a neurosurgeon was who she needed, and so far so good. All this to say. . that the first step to finding a good physician is to figure out which type is best suited to your potential diagnosis. Bouncing from specialist to specialist can be costly, so if you’re not sure which kind of physician specializes in treating your disease or condition (or if you haven’t been diagnosed yet), start with a primary care physician first.
After you choose a Doctor be sure you are very comfortable in his office and continue to ask the right questions. Medical procedures and treatment plans change every minute, so be sure that your Doctor’s office is up to date. As one who knows your body, your aches and pains, your specific needs related to your injury or illness, you must choose wisely. You need to have two-way communication with your doctor about your long-term care concerns. Also, You have the right to whatever information you need including any possible complications arising from the illness/injury or treatments.Before a certain medical/surgical procedure, treatment or research study, you may be asked to give or sign your “informed consent.” You are required to know and fully understand the risks and benefits of a certain treatment or procedure. An informed consent provides you with all the important information. Be sure to read any documentation carefully and ask questions if you don’t understand. Informed consent can also involve getting a second opinion. In some cases, your insurance provider may even require a second opinion. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is another document you may be asked to sign. HIPAA is important for two reasons, first it protects health insurance coverage for workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs. Secondly, it protects the privacy of your health information by making sure that your doctors and health care facilities do not share your health information without your permission. Keep your eyes and ears open my Sistas. . .
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