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In Search of the Perfect Physician

IMAGE How do you find a physician with the best credentials, a good bedside manner, and a warm personality? There are many ways to find a physician, but only a few methods will produce the right chemistry.

Finding a New Physician

Your local hospital or community medical center most likely has a physician referral service. Use it. When you call the service, have your questions about the physician ready. A sample question list may look like this:
  • Is this physician accepting new patients?
  • Is the physician willing to meet with me in person to address my questions before I talk about my specific problem?
  • Is the physician male or female?
  • How long has the physician been in practice?
  • Where did the physician go to medical school?
  • What is the physician's age?
  • What are the physician's's specialties?
  • Is the physician Board certified?
  • What are the physician's areas of interest or research?
  • Does the physician speak Spanish? (Or whatever language you may need)
  • Can I reach the physician after hours?
Word of mouth is usually a good referral source, as well. Remember though, that your friend's expectations of a physician may not match yours. Meet the physician yourself before making any final decisions.

Interview the physician

Perhaps the best way to determine if a physician is a good match for you is to book an appointment or consultation to meet them, before addressing your specific health problem(s). Most offices will accommodate your request for an interview and may charge you for a brief office visit, depending on how long the meeting takes. Ask about the office fee policy prior to the interview.
During your interview, be aware of your instincts and first reaction when meeting the physician.
  • Does the physician make eye contact with you?
  • Are your questions fully answered or explained if you are unclear?
  • Do you feel rushed or unimportant?
  • What is the physician's general attitude?
  • Are your questions welcomed or do you feel like you have to justify your requests?

Know Your Medical History

During your interview, it is important to know your medical history: It is helpful for each person to get their medical, social, and family history straight. Patients may be required to fill out an extensive questionnaire that covers their medical history, their family history, and relate it to how it affects of their living situation, job, relationships, and other factors on their health. Understanding your family history can make an enormous difference when describing your health problems to a physician.

Keep a Copy of Your Medical Records

Your medical records are a written medical history that should be continuously updated and maintained by both you and your physician. If you are switching to a new physician, get two copies of your records, one set for the new physician and one set for your own records. Read them thoroughly. Familiarize yourself with the contents and terminology. If the records are not legible, ask the nurses in the physician's practice to interpret them. Invest in a small medical dictionary to help you understand basic medical terminology and abbreviations.
Make sure that you get a complete copy of your records, including the physician's progress notes. If you have any radiology or other testing procedures performed, such as x-rays or mammograms, it is crucial to get a copy of these reports as well.
Most medical offices have special procedures for releasing medical records. You will probably have to sign a permission form before they release the records to you. You must pick the records up in person, and sometimes there is a small charge for copying and compiling them.

The Office Visit: Your Time

Come to your office visit with a list of your symptoms, the medications you take, any drug allergies, and a general idea of when your symptoms began. If you feel the physician is distracted, try to bring the conversation back to the issue at hand.
Speak to the physician before you disrobe so that you can meet face-to-face in a neutral environment. If your physician will not honor this request, it is probably a good idea to look elsewhere for a physician. Do not ignore your gut instincts.

Managing Your Healthcare: A Three-step Process

  1. Ask . The importance of asking questions cannot be stressed enough. Ask about any diagnosis, treatment or medical procedure. Get a description of any recommended medical procedure or test, as well as its risks. Ask for pamphlets or literature. Ask the physician to speak in terms you understand. Find out where the procedure or test will take place. Are you able to take someone with you into the treatment area? Don't be shy.
  2. Clarify . If you do not understand the treatment recommendation(s), ask for clarification. Get a second opinion. Get a third opinion if you are still wary. Talk to friends who have had similar medical problems. If you think of additional questions after your visit, call the physician. Leave a message with his assistant or a nurse. Some practices now offer you the option to email your questions or leave questions in voicemail.
  3. Evaluate . Do your homework. Utilize the library, Internet, and other medical sources to do some research. Books and magazines are incredibly useful tools when researching medical conditions and treatments.
While the Internet is not an infallible source of medical information, information culled from the Internet does provide a basis for patient and physician to initiate a dialogue.

Do not Settle

Don't get discouraged. It may take some time to find a physician that will meet your health care needs.

RESOURCES

American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org

Office on Women's Health http://www.womenshealth.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Institute for Health Information http://www.cihi.ca

The College of Family Physicians of Canada http://www.cfpc.ca

References

Checklist. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center website. Available at: http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/findadoctor/choosing/checklist/Pages/index.aspx. Accessed October 22, 2013.

Choosing a family doctor. American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/healthcare-management/working-with-your-doctor/choosing-a-family-doctor.html. Updated January 2011. Accessed October 22, 2013.

How to choose a doctor. Consumer Reports website. Available at: http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/2012/12/how-to-choose-a-doctor/index.htm. Updated March 13, 2013. Accessed October 22, 2013.

How to choose the right physician—how to tell us if you don't. New York State Department of Health website. Available at: http://www.health.ny.gov/publications/1444. Accessed October 22, 2013.

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