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Choosing the Right Doctor to Get More From Your Appointments

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Tips from a Board Certified Patient Advocate

1. When choosing a doctor, or “hiring” a physician, remember, you are the boss!

It’s important to remember that when choosing a physician, you are essentially hiring someone that is going to take part and play an active role in one of the most important aspects of your life — your health.

Now, think of choosing a physician in the same way you would choose a babysitter or nanny for your child. You wouldn’t put your child’s well-being in the hands of just anyone, right? Of course not! Chances are, your babysitter had to meet a number of different requirements in order to be considered qualified enough to take care of your pride and joy. Choosing a physician should be treated the same way. At the end of the day, you are putting forth an enormous amount of trust (and money) to ensure this person is doing what they were hired to do and keep you safe.

2. During the interview process, ask a lot of questions.

Before hiring a nanny to take care of your child, chances are that you’ve interviewed this person pretty extensively before deciding that you are comfortable leaving your child alone with them. You’ve researched this person, met with them, and probably asked a lot of questions regarding their qualifications before making your determination.

Choosing a physician should be treated no differently. Make sure you do your research. Hospitals and providers’ offices often have their own website that features the physicians in the practice. Here you can learn about the education the physician has received, where they went to school and received their credentials, how long they have been practicing, and what their specialized interests may be. This can help you narrow down which doctor or specialist may be right for you. But, it may not be enough for some patients that have specialized needs, or uncommon conditions that may require a more experienced physician. If this is the case, do not be afraid to call the office and ask questions.

Now, you won’t be able to call around to providers offices and directly interview physicians like you would a nanny. When you call a providers office, chances are you will be speaking to an office coordinator that probably won’t be able to answer all of your questions right off the bat, and that’s okay- this will be the first “test” in your interview process to see if this is a providers office you are comfortable working with.

A helpful example of a good question to ask the office coordinator would be along the lines of, “I am interested in booking an appointment with Dr. Whoever, but first I need to know if he/she has any experience with condition X?” If they do have experience with condition X, how many patients have they had with this condition? If they do not have experience with condition X, are they willing to educate themselves on the condition?

Now, if you’re dealing with any type of uncommon condition, chances are the office coordinator will not be able to answer right away. They may put you on a brief hold while they ask one of the clinical providers nearby, or they may need to call you back once they have a chance to ask the physician themselves. Regardless, the way the office handles this situation can tell you a lot about the practice in general.

Firstly, you want to work with a provider’s office that is open and honest. If they tell you, “I don’t know, but I will find out” then this is a very good start. You want to avoid the provider’s office that immediately answers ‘yes’ to all of your questions regardless of the accuracy, just so they can get you in the door.

Secondly, good communication from the provider’s office is critical. Think about it this way: was the office coordinator able to answer your questions when you called? If they put you on hold to ask someone, were they able to come back with helpful information in a timely manner? If the office coordinator had to call you back, how long did this take? Were they able to get back to you within a few minutes or hours? Or did they call you back three days later?

If a provider’s office is unable to accurately answer a few patient questions in a timely manner, what are the odds that vital information (such as diagnostic imaging or urgent lab results) could also get lost in the shuffle? And is this a chance you’re willing to take?

3. Approach the consultation like an interview.

So you’ve done your research and you’ve narrowed down a provider that you would like to “interview,” and you have a consultation scheduled. There is a reason that the first visit with a new provider is called a consultation. This is the appointment where you will meet the physician who will discuss your concerns, perform an evaluation, and devise a treatment plan. As much as this is a patient evaluation, it is equally a physician evaluation.

It is important to approach the consultation with the “babysitter” mindset; this is a preliminary interview to determine if this is someone you can trust and want to work with. And just like nannies, you may have to interview two, three, maybe even four people before you find someone that checks all of your boxes.

Be prepared for your appointment and bring pertinent documentation with you. It is also important to compose a list of the symptoms you’re experiencing, and a list of the questions you would like to ask. By composing these lists, you are ensuring that you are not forgetting anything, and your doctor will likely take the list of symptoms and scan it into your official medical record, so it is clearly documented. It is also important to be able to take notes during your appointment, so you can write down the answers to the questions you have prepared, and document important information provided by the physician.

Just like choosing someone who will be responsible for your child’s well-being, an equal amount of care and consideration should go into selecting a provider to be a part of your care team. Remember, you are the boss!

Getty image by Deagreez.

Originally published: April 5, 2023
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