5 questions to ask when choosing a doctor
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – April 15, 2013 -- Choosing a doctor is one of the most important decisions that you will ever make. Yet many people spend more time researching a new appliance purchase than their physician. Part of the problem is that objective information about local physicians is hard to find, and so prospective patients ask friends and family for referrals or search online for local listings. But is word-of-mouth or a blind internet search the best way to find a doctor? Or is it just the only way?
It’s very hard for consumers to know how to find a physician in the current market. Referrals from friends and family are a great place to start, but consumers have to take their own needs into account. For example, going to your brother’s doctor might not be a good idea if you need to discuss getting pregnant or other women’s health issues.
To find a physician that fits your needs, start by asking five key questions:
- What am I looking for? The first step is identifying what type of doctor you need. Everyone needs a primary care physician for yearly check-ups and common maladies, such as strep throat or the flu. But you may need a specialist as well; for example, most women see a gynecologist. Next, think about other factors that might influence your experience at the doctor’s office. Would you prefer a male or female doctor? Are you willing to commute, or do you need a doctor located close to your home or office? Once you know what you’re looking for, you can use a variety of tools to create a list of potential physicians. Ask for referrals, search hospital websites or call a service such as 1-800-DOCTORS to find out about local doctors.
- Which doctors accept my health insurance? The second step is to find out whether or not the potential physicians on your list accept your health insurance plan. You can locate this information by calling the doctor’s office or searching online. Or, contact your health insurance company – it may have a list of physicians that accept your plan.
- How do I know my potential doctor is qualified? Start by searching the website Administrators in Medicine to find out if any disciplinary action has been taken against your potential physician. Then, check the American Board of Medical Specialties to see whether or not a physician is certified in a particular specialty, such as family medicine. Other helpful rating websites abound. But these sites don’t use a standard set of criteria, so ratings may vary dramatically from site to site.
- How quickly can I get an appointment? Once you have narrowed your list to a handful of doctors, arrange a phone interview with each office to ask questions. Illnesses often happen at inconvenient times, so one key consideration is scheduling. Does the doctor you’re considering have evening or weekend hours? Does the office leave space on the schedule for urgent, same-day appointments? What are the wait times? Is the doctor part of a group practice, and if so, could you see another doctor at that practice if your doctor is unavailable? It’s important to know the answers to these questions before you get sick.
- What if I needed surgery or a specialist referral? Even very healthy individuals sometimes find themselves in need of surgery or a specialist. Be prepared - discuss this subject with your potential physician before it happens. Does he or she have established relationships with specialists that you would be comfortable visiting? If your doctor is a specialist, such as an obstetrician, does he or she have admitting privileges at a local hospital? The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be for a health emergency.
Choosing a doctor is a process that takes research and perseverance. However, there are many excellent physicians, so everyone needs to take time to make a decision that is right for them. Patients who don’t feel comfortable talking to their doctor are less likely to ask questions and share vital information that can affect their care, which means that finding a doctor you trust and building a strong relationship with that doctor might actually save your life one day.
For more information about Saint Thomas Health, or to find a physician, please visit www.sths.org.