Written by Trudy Despain (last updated August 23, 2013)
A problem patients face when choosing a new doctor is the lack of available objective data. Most people wouldn't think of buying a new car without checking consumer reports, however when we seek a new doctor, we usually have to choose one based on recommendations from friends or family. Chances are you are probably seeking a doctor to treat different health concerns than your mother or your next door neighbor. Government agencies collect annual data on physicians about things like what procedures they have performed or which physicians have been fired. That information would prove invaluable if released to the public but, for now, the data is only available to hospitals and other select groups. This lack of objective, unbiased information means that patients have a big job to do if they want to find a competent doctor who specializes in a specific health concern.
Finding the right doctor should happen during a period of good health, not during the flu or right after a slip and fall with a possible broken bone. Seeking a new doctor, especially during a time of illness, is similar to a job interview process. You are hiring the doctor to manage your illness and steer you back to wellness. Just as a job interviewer would ask specific questions, you must address your most pressing issues, especially the ones that caused you to leave your previous doctor. Make a list of your primary health concerns. Do you have diabetes, arthritis, a chronic cough or occasional skin problems? Next, star your the top three health concerns. Sometimes a general internal doctor might specialize in diabetes or allergies. Also, a general internist may be part of a network of specialists who refer to each other when patients need care in a specific area. This network will serve you well as a patient because it usually means better communication between different doctors.
After you have identified your key areas of concern, you next need to consider which doctors your health care plan will allow you to see. If you find yourself in the predicament of finding the perfect physician only to learn that he or she does not accept your insurance, it might be a good time to consider an insurance plan change. Sometimes a simple change in the level of insurance you carry will make it so that you can see the doctor you are hoping for. Your premium may cost a little more but you will have the peace of mind of knowing that you are getting the best possible care. If you cannot change your insurance plan and finding new insurance is not an option, explain your situation to the chosen physician and ask for a few referrals. Physicians usually refer to other physicians who share their philosophy and expertise in health care.
After you have done all your homework it is time for the real test: finding out if you feel comfortable with your new physician's bedside manners. Keep in mind that bedside manners are important but some of the most competent physicians might not also be the friendliest. A smile and a polite manner might raise your spirits a little but it won't cure athlete's foot.
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