How to Shop for a Doctor
By: Dr. Margaret Lewin, Medical Director of Cinergy Health (www.cinergyhealth.com)
Shopping for the right doctor is like shopping for a life partner, not a casual date. You want someone you whose judgment you trust and who will be there for you when the need arises. You want to shop when you’re not pressed by an emergency, so you have time to find the right partner.
Getting Started: Start with a generalist (internist or family practitioner) who can help you prevent illness, handle most problems and refer you to (and coordinate your care with) first-rate subspecialists when needed.
Where to look:
If you have a health insurance plan which limits you to participating doctors, look at the plan’s list of general internists or family practitioners and narrow it down*:
1) Choose those affiliated with the best teaching hospital near office or home (Note that in order to be given the privilege of the hospital affiliation, a doctor’s credentials will have been scrupulously checked, thereby saving you a lot of time and energy.)
2) Make a list of those doctors with an office convenient to you.
3) Ask colleagues, friends and other doctors if they know and like any on your list.
4) If you can’t get such a personal referral (or get more than one), check detailed information on the doctors, choosing some characteristic you find important or interesting (such as sex, languages spoken, medical training). To find such information, check…
a) Your health plan’s list
b) The doctor’s website
c) The website of the hospital
d) Such websites as doctor.webmd.com (unhappily, all of these sites are filled with errors – most carried over from other sites; so check with the doctor’s office to verify information). Some sites offer patients’ opinions of doctors: use them only for general impressions, recognizing that angry patients are more likely to offer opinions than happy ones.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to one doctor, give him or her a try. Schedule an interview visit with the doctor (your insurance probably won’t cover it – but its well worth the expense to find the right person before you’re feeling very sick) or make an appointment with him or her for a simple problem such as a sore throat. Decide beforehand what’s most important to you in the right doctor, and during the visit watch for clues such as:
· Are the office and staff scrupulously clean, professional and well-organized?
· Does s/he run on time (or at least does the staff – apologetically - keep you informed of delays)?
· Does s/he listen carefully and respectfully – so that you know you’re being heard and feel comfortable in sharing very private details without fear of being judged?
· Is the doctor a good teacher, so you understand how to take an active part in your healthcare? Are your questions answered clearly – and if you don’t quite understand, are you comfortable in saying so?
· Is the doctor willing to ‘negotiate’ – taking into account your personal quirks, or is s/he rigid in outlook and approach?
* If you’re lucky enough to be able to choose any doctor (inside or outside your plan), start by choosing the best teaching hospital convenient to home or office and go to the hospital’s website. Most have a section “Find a Doctor”. Choose “internal medicine” or “family practice”, and then follow steps 2-4 above.
When you need a specialist (such as an orthopedist or gynecologist): start by asking your internist or family physician. That should direct you to a specialist expert in your particular problem and oblige the specialist to write a consultation note to your general doctor. This lets the generalist help you coordinate your care (sending you for a second opinion if appropriate) and keeps all your records in one place should you want your records transferred elsewhere.
If you don’t feel comfortable with your current doctor: Find another one! Don’t be embarrassed – after all, the two nicest people in the world can have a dreadful marriage.
So take the time to find the right, long-term partner – one with whom you communicate comfortably and trust to help you prevent illness and to diagnose and treat it early should you become ill.