Choosing a Doctor – Finding Doctor Right

After selecting your spouse\significant other and your vocation, the next most important decision you may make is finding the right physician who will take care of you in sickness and in health.  You may have limited choices as your insurance plan will give you a menu of doctsors to choose from.   These doctors have signed contracts with the insurance company and have discounted their fees in order to attract patients to their practices.  As a result, these doctors are part of a network and you will pay less if you use them. However, most plans will allow you to “go out of network” and select another physician, and this will usually raise your co-pays or the percent of the fee that you will be responsible for. You can ask doctors you know, medical societies, friends, family, and coworkers to recommend doctors. You may also contact hospitals and referral services about doctors in your area.

Now you need to do a little homework.  First, call the potential new doctor and make sure they are accepting new patients. Here’s how to check doctors out:

  • Ask plans and medical offices for information on their doctors’ training and experience.
  • Look up basic information about doctors.  There are a number of medical directories on the Internet.  One of the most robust is on the WebMD website.  (http://doctor.webmd.com/physician_finder/) The WebMD ‘Physician Directory’ is provided by WebMD for use by the general public as a quick reference of information about physicians.
  • Use “AMA Physician Select,” which is the American Medical Association’s free service on the Internet for information about physicians (http://www.ama-assn.org/aps/amahg.htm).

You may also want to find out:

  • Is the doctor board certified? Although all doctors must be licensed to practice medicine, some also are board certified. This means the doctor has completed several years of training in a specialty and passed an exam. Visit the American Board of Medical Specialties at http://www.abms.org/. The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), a not-for-profit organization, assists 24 approved medical specialty boards in the development and use of standards in the ongoing evaluation and certification of physicians. ABMS, recognized as the “gold standard” in physician certification, believes higher standards for physicians means better care for patients.
  • Have complaints been registered or disciplinary actions taken against the doctor? To find out, call your State Medical Licensing Board.
  • Have complaints been registered with your State department of insurance?   You can also visit Healthgrades.com and find out about the malpractice issues associated with your doctor.

Once you have narrowed your search to a few doctors, you may want to set up “get acquainted” appointments with them. Ask what charge there might be for these visits, if any. Most physicians who are seeking new patients would welcome a visit and an interview.  Prepare the questions you would like to ask the doctor about his\her philosophy of care.  Questions you might consider are:

How long does it take to make an appointment for new problem that is not an emergency?

Can I be seen immediately if I have an urgent or emergency problem?

How soon can I expect a call back from you or your nurse if I call with a question?

What is your philosophy on prescription refills?

Will I be seen by the physician or a physician assistant or nurse practioner?

What are your fees for an office visit, emergency room visit, and a phone call?

I have a certain medical problem, do you take care of patients with this problem?

Bottom Line:  There is no better way to find the right fit for you and your family than to take a little time and do a background check on your physician and then make an initial visit to see if you will be comfortable having him\her provide you with medical care.

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