Choosing a primary care doctor is one of the most important health decisions you’ll make. For this reason, you need to carefully select and build a relationship with a good primary care physician.
Talk with people you know
First, talk to your friends and family members for recommendations. Ask them what they liked or did not like about a specific doctor. Ask them how the appointments usually went. How long do they have to wait for an appointment, and what is the average wait time in the lobby or exam room before the doctor arrives.
Best places for finding a physician online
You really don’t want to find a doctor the same way you look for a restaurant or a plumber. So probably Yelp and Angie’s List are not the places to look.
Be sure to use a reputable site, and realize that it is mostly the patients who are extremely happy or unhappy who post reviews, which can cause the results to be biased. Look for the larger picture and take reviews with a grain of salt. For example, if the rating says “waited too long in the waiting room,” this could actually be a good thing; it means the doctor takes his or her time with each patient and goes above and beyond the prescribed 15 minutes when needed.
Basic information on more than 814,000 physicians in the U.S. You get information on specialty training, board certification or specialty.
Ratings of “top doctors” based on peer nominations, research, screening, and other factors. Search by name, location, hospital, specialty, or insurance.
Doctors often add or drop insurance plans, so don’t rely only on your insurer’s online lists to avoid financial surprises.
Once you have created your short list of high-quality doctors, seek answers to further questions:
- Is this doctor accepting new patients?
- Does this doctor accept your healthcare insurance?
(If you happen to have no insurance, negotiate a cash discount ahead of time)
Check board certification
Check for disciplinary actions
For the state of Kansas, agency records pertaining to Board actions are available to the public. The Board provides copies of Board actions on the website as a courtesy to the public. KSBHA contains records going back to 1990. DocInfo is a federally run database containing information on licenses and disciplinary actions against physicians.
Find out about their office policies
Call and ask what their cancelation policy is and, most importantly, how long will your appointment be. Ask if the doctor accepts your health insurance: sometimes, the insurance website is inaccurate.
Ask about drug reps
Many doctors let representatives from pharmaceutical companies into their offices to pitch their drugs. That not only takes up a lot of the doctor’s time but also may inappropriately influence his choice of drugs. The doctor may be more likely to get patients started on a brand-name medication that may be more expensive or may not be the best one for them.
Follow the money
The government collects data on the money doctors get from drug and medical-device companies. A physician who receives large payments may be more likely to recommend a company or a drug, even if it might not be best for you. The nonprofit journalism group ProPublica keeps a database of how much industry money physicians receive.
Is there an annual or monthly fee to join the practice?
An increasing number of primary care doctors charge their patients monthly or annual fees to access care at their practices. At some of these practices (sometimes referred to as “concierge” or “boutique” practices), these payments, which can run as high as $1,000 to $10,000 and up a year, buy VIP access to premium care, increased time with doctors, 24-hour access to the doctor’s cell phone or even house calls. They often offer comprehensive wellness plans, custom nutrition advice, genetic medical testing, and comprehensive diagnostic tests that insurance does not usually cover.
At the doctor’s
Come prepared to your first appointment
If you are going to expose yourself and make yourself vulnerable to somebody, you want to make sure that they will hear you and respect you. Be organized and succinct! Average physicians only give patients 11 seconds to explain the reason for their visit before interrupting. It is always a good idea to bring a list of medications and supplements that you take, along with dosage information. Better yet, bring all your medicine bottles in a gad with you. Draft a list of questions and concerns you want the provider to address. For complicated appointments bring a close relative or a friend as another pair of ears. Ask this person to take notes to recall the details at a later time.
Write down and prioritize your concerns
On average, a doctor can only address four main problems. A rushed atmosphere can make some patients feel uncomfortable about mentioning bothersome issues, or people get embarrassed. Too often, when the doctor is putting a pen back in his coat and about to walk out of the exam room, the most crucial question about a potentially serious medical situation surfaces. Doctors call it “the doorknob phenomenon.” Hand the doctor your list of questions at the beginning of the visit so he can scan them himself to save time and address the most important ones at first.
Avoid the ER for non-emergency visits
One of the most expensive places to get medical care is in the hospital emergency room. Fortunately, there’s a much better alternative if you need medical care when your doctor’s office isn’t open. The alternative to the ER is an urgent care facility. A typical urgent care visit costs between $100 and $200. The typical ER visit can run more than twice that amount — usually over $500. As a general rule, MRI and Scan run at hospitals are also much higher costs than those done in medical offices.
Choose a doctor who is a good listener, not a good laptop typist! Rewarding doctor-patient relationships don’t just happen overnight. And it all starts with good research.
Healthcare Choices: 5 Steps to Getting the Medical Care You Want and Need by Archelle Georgiou, MD.
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