How to Choose a Doctor?
Choosing a qualified medical doctor is important to your health care. Everyone should have a primary care physician for overall medical care. When you need a specialist (such as a cardiologist, a dermatologist, a psychiatrist, etc.), your primary care physician will refer you to one. Many specialists will not accept patients unless referred by a primary care physician. Also, many insurance companies will not pay for specialist's care without a prior referral.
The main types of primary care physicians are:
- Family Practitioner
- General Practitioner
- Internist/Internal Medicine (primarily for adults)
IF YOU DON'T HAVE A PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN...GATHER NAMES:
Collect a list of names of physicians in your area. Ask a friend or relative if they know a physician who has given quality care in the past. If you have just moved, your former physician may be able to recommend someone in your new location.
If you have a health insurance plan, contact the plan and find out if they have a list, or "panel" of the physicians who participate in that plan. If your company has such a panel, you will need to choose from the list of members. Many insurance companies require you see panel member physicians who have agreed to certain conditions of reimbursement.
Local medical societies usually have a physician referral service and will give you names based on your geographical area or the type of physician you need. Some hospitals may give you names of physicians to consider. To find the medical society, check the yellow pages of your telephone directory under your county's Medical Society. Some phone directories also list Medical Societies under Associations. Check the yellow pages for local hospital listings.
MAKE AN APPOINTMENT:
Before you decide on a physician, call and make an appointment to meet with the doctor. It is best to meet the physician when there is nothing urgently wrong, and you are not acutely ill. This meeting will give you an opportunity to determine whether you are comfortable with the physician, the support staff, and the facilities.
Just as you would not trust your home to a contractor without discussing your needs and confirming the contractor's qualifications, you should do no less when choosing a physician. Telephone or write to physicians you are considering, and talk to their office staff members. Be prepared to discuss your special needs, to pay for this office visit, and to ask the following questions:
- Are you accepting new patients?
- Which insurance plans do you accept?
- At which hospitals do you have staff privileges and admit patients?
- Are there any limitations on your privileges?
- Do you practice alone, or are you part of a group?
- If so, how many members are there in your group?
- Who provides care for your patients in your absence?
- Are you certified by a medical specialty board?
- Which one? In what specialty area?
- If you have special needs, ask the physician, "Are you comfortable assuming my care?"
- Is the physician currently licensed?
Has the Board ever taken disciplinary action against this physician? If yes, you may request a copy of the disciplinary order.
To learn if any malpractice lawsuits have been filed against a physician, you may check the county's civil index. This index is maintained in the County Clerk's Office.
Please keep in mind that anyone can file a lawsuit at any time. The existence of a suit does not automatically indicate a physician practices medicine badly; it may mean that a patient was unhappy about the outcome of treatment received, possibly without any fault of the physician. However, a pattern of legal actions, may be cause for concern.
AFTER FOLLOWING THESE FOUR STEPS, ASK YOURSELF:
- Was I treated courteously?
- Were all of my questions were answered?
- Did I feel rushed or dismissed?
If you were not satisfied, go to the next name on your list!
WHAT ARE MEDICAL SPECIALTY BOARDS?
Specialty boards determine if a physician has advanced qualifications to practice in a specialty, such as surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics, etc. Specialty certification usually requires several years of additional training and passing an examination. In recent years, many specialty boards have arisen which have minimal standards. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) is a private organization which certifies specialty boards. You may call its toll-free line 1-800-776-2378, between 9:00 a.m and 6:00 p.m. Eastern time to check if a physician's certifying board is ABMS approved. The ABMS can also give you the phone number of the certifying specialty board so that you can verify that the physician is actually certified; or you can call Board to confirm a physician's certification in a medical specialty or sub-specialty.
ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH YOUR CHOICE?
If you have taken all of the steps listed above to select a doctor, and you are comfortable with your choice, GREAT!
If not, keep trying. It is your health that is at stake, and it is your choice.