Picking a doctor isn’t quite the five-minute decision most people make it out to be. Not that it has to be a drawn-out process either. By knowing what to look for and which questions to ask, it might just be a lot easier to find that trusted medical confidant than you think.
By Jay Ferris
As we make our way through life, most of us build a continually-expanding base of professionals to call upon as needed. Whether we've entrusted someone to bring order to a chaotic financial situation, or even handle a simple oil change, there's no denying the peace of mind that can come from having a well-rounded list of reliable “go-to” people.
What's really strange about the creation of this “professional roster” as I like to call it, is that the majority of people will actually spend more time researching that accountant or mechanic than they do their primary care physician. In fact, I'd be willing to wager that the young, entry-level working class is about the worst at this. They'll do a quick search of the provider directory for their insurance carrier, find someone close to home/work, probably give brief consideration to the male vs. female issue, and problem solved. Maybe not. In fact, choosing poorly when it comes to your doctor might just open you up to an entirely new set of problems.
As with so many other professional services, the best time to shop around for a doctor is when you don't really need one. This gives you time to do the necessary research without being bound by the stress of a pressing illness or injury, which could in turn force you into making a quick decision you later find yourself unhappy with. One of the very first things you can do to narrow the field is solicit suggestions from friends and family. If you're new to an area, it's perfectly fine to turn to that insurance provider directory – or even run an online search for recommended physicians within a 10 mile radius. True, there's little you'll be able to tell about the doctor in this early part of the process, but that's OK; all you're doing right now is canvassing anyway. Once you've got a list of potential physicians in-hand, it's time to run them through the gauntlet.
Make sure they're one of the good guys.
While even the best of the best can't claim perfection, it just makes sense to check with the state medical boards to ensure your new doc doesn't have a history of complaints and disciplinary action. Most consumer watchdog sites that have tried posting this kind of info in the past have been shut down, but you are still able to contact your state's medical board directly. The Federation of State Medical Boards maintains an up-to-date listing of the individual state boards on their site which is both comprehensive free to use.
Seek out doctors who are board certified.
Board certification happens when a doctor has completed at least three years of training in a specific field after medical school and has been through a rigorous process of testing and peer evaluation designed and administered by specialists in the specific area of medicine. While this doesn't necessarily make a great doctor, it assures you they've had the appropriate training for that specialty. For a primary care physician, the most likely area of certification would be family or internal medicine, but an especially active individual might find it useful to have a primary care physician that is also board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
Don't be afraid to be a little biased.
One of the most important things is choosing a doctor you'll be comfortable with. Considering variables such as age, gender, and primary language hardly makes you a bad person. It's a fairly straightforward reality, especially in a situation where having a relaxed, open forum to discuss critical personal matters is key. On that note, don't be afraid to challenge your own misconceptions either. Many people baulk at the relative inexperience of doctors fresh out of medical school, yet they are very often more apprised of the latest and greatest techniques and research.
Understand their office dynamic.
Before deciding which physician(s) you'd like to make an appointment with, ask the receptionist/front desk clerk these following questions:
- Is the doctor currently accepting new patients? If not, is there a wait list?
- Which hospital, if any, is the doctor affiliated with?
- How long are the wait times for appointments? How long does it take to get an appointment?
- What are the office hours and does the doctor allow for walk-ins? Are there evening or weekend hours? How can you reach them in case of an emergency?
- Who covers for the doctor when he or she is away or after hours?
Make an appointment.
Once you've narrowed your search down to a handful of doctors, the final decision will be largely based on their personality and practice style. A doctor should be able to communicate well with you, and do so in a way you understand and are comfortable with. Do they explain your condition and treatment options to your satisfaction, or does it feel as if you're being hurried along like another task on their already overwhelming to-do list?
The initial appointment is crucial for you to diagnose these interactions, so make sure you take the opportunity to ask enough questions to see if he or she answers them in a manner that suits you. Ultimately, if the personal chemistry is nonexistent then it's not going to be very good for your health in the long run