When you have to make a decision on your new primary care physician, they will probably be the most important health care professional you have in your life. Therefore, you are not just picking a name off an insurance list. Many experts suggest considering these 12 things.
When you really fall sick and can barely move out of bed, you will want a doctor who is close to your home.
Paula Muto, MD, the CEO, and founder of UBERDOC, says, “Location matters because of convenience, and you never want to underestimate convenience. When you need a doctor, you don’t want to travel far, especially if you need to schedule a visit more than once in a year.”
There is a study from the University of Michigan Medical School that found out how patients had a greater disease burden the further they were from their primary care physician.
2. Type of Doctor
It is great if you can actually tell the difference between a DO and an MD. However, you may not be familiar with the difference between family and internal medicine.
Lindsay Nakaishi, MD, MPH, the chief resident at the UPMC Shadyside Family Health Center, advises, “The differences in training fosters unique skill sets between the two specialties that patients can consider when choosing a primary care doctor. Family medicine practitioners care for patients of all ages from birth to death, which can include prenatal, obstetric, gynecologic, pediatric, adult, and geriatric care. Internal medicine providers typically offer care for adults starting at 18 years old, and may refer out to an OBGYN provider for women’s healthcare needs.”
The family practitioners focus on disease prevention, while doctors of internal medicine also possess a subspecialty. This means that, if you have a particular health problem, seek the one who knows your issue more than the other. In addition, although you might call your primary care physician a general practitioner (GP), this is not an actually certified specialty.
When you are scheduling your next appointment or a checkup, you want to make the most of it. Nevertheless, it can be frustrating to wait for months in order to get in. Here, convenience again plays a vital role.
Ida Tuwatananurak, DO, the chief resident of UPMC Shadyside Family Health Center, voices her opinion here, saying, “Some providers may have a limited schedule with fewer available appointments, resulting in longer wait times for routine appointments. However, patients may want to choose a doctor whose practice can see them within one to two days—or same day—for acute concerns.”
Generally, it is best to visit a primary care doctor who is familiar with you, instead of urgent care or the ER, for example.
4. Your Time is also valuable
You should never be late for your appointment, because your appointment slot may not be open for long if you do. However, even if you get there on time, you may be required to wait, which is another frustration for people who are busy.
Dr. Muto says, “Sometimes the wait is not the fault of the doctor—it could be the office procedures holding things up. But, if there are few people in the waiting room, it’s probably the doctor.”
It is great when doctors take their time with patients because it means they care. However, it is a consistent problem for you, maybe it is time to find someone who makes sticks to a more realistic schedule that suits all of the patients.
5. Watch the Receptionist
One of the important things is to play nice and well with the supporting team at the office.
Dr. Muto gives another piece of advice, “We never want to underestimate the importance of the office staff, because often times they will be the ones to arrange any follow-up appointments, visits, or care that is needed.”
Therefore, if the receptionist at the doctor’s office is always unfriendly, think twice before going back there. However, first, ask your doctor about it.
“There are many reasons a practice may seem disorganized or unhelpful—for example, the practice may be understaffed, the workers may be in the process of training, the practice may be transitioning leadership, or the staff could just be having a bad day. Patients can talk to their doctor about any concerns with how the office is functioning so they can actively work on remedying the issues,” says Dr. Nakaishi.
6. Open up
In order for you to get healthy, and for the doctor to know exactly what the problem is, you need to be able to properly communicate with them. Therefore, you cannot be overly private and must be ready to share some possibly embarrassing information.
Dr. Muto says that “Medicine is a contact sport based on trust and communication. If you’re uncomfortable, it may be hard for you to convey a symptom to your doctor.”
It is then important to pick someone around whom you are comfortable with, and with whom you can talk freely.
7. Your Doctor should not Rush You
One of the most important thing when deciding if your doctor cares about you is to determine whether or not they listen to you while you are explaining the issue. There was a recent report showing that doctors spend between 13 and 16 minutes per patient, which is nearly not enough for a doctor you see once a year on average. Another, more shocking study, found out that doctors let their patients speak for a mere 12 seconds before they interrupt them.
Dr. Tuwatananurak says, “When the right fit is found, patients should leave the appointment satisfied that their questions were addressed with patience, sincerity, and candor. The ‘right’ doctor fosters a patient-physician relationship in which patients are comfortable disclosing their most intimate health concerns, can freely and easily communicate with the provider and can partner with their doctor to come up with a treatment plan that’s most appropriate and helpful for the patient.”
8. Gender Preference
Since you never know what exactly your doctor is thinking in a given situation, you may feel more comfortable around a doctor of the same sex. When it comes to the actual care you receive from them, it does not matter.
Dr. Nakaishi advises, “The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published a study that demonstrated that patients 65 and older who are treated by female physicians have lower mortality and readmission rates within 30 days of discharge from the hospital. However, on an individual level, a doctor’s gender does not dictate his or her competency or compassion.”
9. Ask your Friends for Advice
Information and advice you come across on the web should not be trusted 100%. One more way to go therefore is to ask someone you know and trust in real life.
Dr. Tuwatananurak says that “Personal referrals can be a great starting place when looking for a physician. Patients should seek referrals from friends or family who have similar values and priorities in choosing a primary care physician.”
Referrals from people help the patients find the right doctor who is for example more familiar with a particular disease.
10. Utilize Technology
In this modern day and age, medical advances give people hope of a better and longer life. If your doctor is following the trend on an individual level with a tech-savvy practice, good for you! For example, keeping electronic records, having a website for patients with all the important info, or allowing patients to use email are only some of the less technical aspects. It should never replace the doctor-patient interaction, however.
Dr. Muto says here, that “A truly genuine doctor-patient relationship is based on a personal level. Technology helps in how we communicate, but it shouldn’t replace or change the need for communication.”
11. Do not worry about the Office
The office of your doctor should not weird or out of place. However, a nice décor does not necessarily mean that the office operates well, nor that the doctor is a better professional than one whose office is of less quality or comfort.
Our expert, Dr. Muto, shared the following, “It could mean that the doctor is investing their resources back to patient care. Does a high-tech classroom make a better teacher? You can still teach with a blackboard and chalk.”
Although a good first impression is important, a rundown office does not automatically mean that you should run the other way immediately.
12. Check the Hospital
The best-case scenario is that you do not have to study a given hospital, to find their hidden secrets or controversies. If you must visit one, pick a hospital where your chosen doctor has benefits and privileges. In addition, if you need a specialist, you will find them in the same hospital system.
Dr. Nakaishi gives her view on the matter, saying, “Hospital systems often have central electronic medical record systems, and having access to all of the patient’s medical record can improve continuity, enhance communication between providers, and reduce healthcare costs. Ultimately, patients should choose a physician they can trust and based on their ability to provide high quality, evidence-based care.”