Finding the right physician is a critical aspect of taking care of your health. Take a look at these tips for some good guidelines and resources.
How Do You Choose a Doctor?
Choosing a doctor is a challenge for everyone, whether facing a chronic illness or simply needing a partner in your quest for good health. Fortunately more doctors are recognizing the need for good listening skills, understanding and acceptance of patient concerns.
At this time, no specific medical discipline has "claimed" the chronic illnesses that plague many of us, so diagnosis and treatment can be a rocky road. But no matter what your health concern, finding a knowledgeable health care provider and being your own advocate is essential.
Your Primary Care Provider
If you already have a good relationship with a health care provider, work closely with her to develop an understanding of what your health needs are. If you have literature or research about your illness or concern, provide your doctor with this and get her recommendations regarding how to proceed.
If you are starting a search for a physician, educate yourself thoroughly about your health concerns and be on the lookout for health care providers who have a similar focus. Friends, relatives, neighbors, coworkers, nurses, support group members - everyone is a resource. Keep in mind that many choose health care providers according to "personality" and opinions differ among individuals. Most people are not qualified to characterize a doctor as competent or incompetent. However, compassion and understanding, good "bedside manner" and an open mind are crucial qualities in a health care provider, especially when treating chronic illness.
You can find information on physicians throughout the country at your local library, a physician referral service or on the Internet. You will want to know if they are licensed, board certified, have ever been sued for malpractice and at which hospital(s) they have privileges.
Once you think you know whom you might be interested in seeing, give a call to their office and speak with the manager. Find out how the physician feels about your specific health concern. Ask if they accept your insurance plan and/or Medicaid/Medicare (if applicable).
Double check with your insurance provider regarding coverage with the specific doctors or practitioners you want to see. If they aren't part of your plan, find out what the costs are if you go 'out of network.'
When You See the Doctor
Be prepared for your visit. Provide your doctor/nurse with as much information as possible. Have a list of your symptoms and medications and any questions you may have. (If you have a chronic condition, you may want to keep a symptom diary to help keep track of issues and their duration.) This site also has thousands of studies/articles that might be helpful. The important thing is for you to be up-to-date regarding your interests and concerns, and for you and your doctor to have open discussions. Ask and answer questions fully. Write things down. You might even want to ask permission to audiotape the visit.
Keep in mind that doctors are people too, and as such are fallible. No one doctor can possibly keep up with all the new medical information coming out. They have personal opinions and attitudes and can't be totally unbiased or free of pre-judgments. If you feel your doctor can't deal with your medical concerns, seek help elsewhere.
American Medical Association (AMA)
Department of Physician Data Services
515 N. State Street
Chicago, IL 60616
The AMA has information about doctors' educational backgrounds, areas of medical specialty and AMA membership. You can find the American Medical Association Medical Directory at your local public library or bookstore.
American Board of Medical Specialties
47 Perimeter Center East, Suite 350
Atlanta, GA 30346
This organization will tell you whether a doctor is board certified or board eligible in a particular area. "Board certified" means the doctor has completed two additional years of training and passed a national examination. "Board eligible" means that the training, but not the test, has been completed.