• In Search of the Perfect Physician

    IMAGE How do you find a doctor with the best credentials, a good bedside manner, and a warm personality? There are many ways to find a physician, but only a few methods will produce the right chemistry.

    Finding a New Physician

    Your local hospital or community medical center most likely has a physician referral service. Use it. When you call the service, have your questions about the doctor ready. A sample question list may look like this:
    • Is the doctor male or female?
    • How long has the doctor been in practice?
    • Where did the doctor go to medical school?
    • How old is he/she?
    • What are his/her specialties?
    • Is the physician Board certified?
    • What are the physician's areas of interest or research?
    • Is this doctor accepting new patients?
    • Is the doctor willing to meet with me in person to address my questions before I consult him/her about my specific problem?
    • Does the doctor speak Spanish? (Or whatever language you may need)
    • Can I reach the doctor after hours?
    Word of mouth is usually a good referral source, as well. Remember though, that your friend's expectations of a physician may not match yours. Meet the doctor yourself before making any final decisions.

    Interview the Doctor

    Perhaps the best way to determine if a physician is a good match for you is to book an appointment or consultation to meet him, before addressing your specific health problem(s). Most offices will accommodate your request for an interview and will usually charge you for a brief office visit, depending on how long the meeting takes. Ask about the office fee policy prior to the interview.
    During your interview, be aware of your instincts and first reaction when meeting the physician.
    • Does she maintain eye contact with you?
    • Does he fully answer your questions and explain anything that may be unclear?
    • Do you feel rushed or unimportant?
    • What is the physician's general attitude? Is he open to your questions, or do you find yourself trying to justify and explain your requests?

    Know Your Medical History

    Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom, stresses the importance of knowing your medical history: "It is helpful for each woman to get her medical, social, and family history straight," she says. "Our patients fill out an extensive questionnaire that covers their medical history, their family history, and a 'daily living profile' in which they check off the effects of their living situation, job, relationships, and other factors on their health." Understanding your family history can make an enormous difference when describing your health problems to a physician.

    Keep a Copy of Your Medical Records

    Your medical records are a written medical "history" that should be continuously updated and maintained by both you and your doctor. If you are switching to a new doctor, get two copies of your records—one set for the new doctor and one set for your own records. Read them thoroughly. Familiarize yourself with the contents and terminology. If the records are not legible, ask the nurses in the physician's practice to interpret them. Invest in a small medical dictionary to help you understand basic medical terminology and abbreviations.
    Make sure that you get a complete copy of your records, including the doctor's progress notes. If you have any radiology procedures performed (such as x-rays, mammograms, etc.), it is crucial to get a copy of these reports as well.
    Most medical offices have special procedures for releasing medical records. You will probably have to sign a permission form before they release the records to you. You must pick the records up in person, and sometimes there is a small charge for copying and compiling them.

    The Office Visit: Your Time

    Come to your office visit with a list of your symptoms, the medicines you take, any drug allergies, and a general idea of when your symptoms began. If the doctor seems rushed or preoccupied, call her on it. Make the physician aware of how his actions make you feel.
    Insist on speaking to the doctor before you disrobe so that you can meet "face-to-face" in a neutral environment. If your doctor will not honor this request, it is probably a good idea to look elsewhere for a physician. Do not ignore your gut instincts.

    Managing Your Healthcare: A Three-step Process

    1. Ask . The importance of asking questions cannot be stressed enough. Ask about your treatment options. Get a description of any recommended medical procedure or test, as well as its risks. Ask for pamphlets or literature. Ask the doctor to speak in terms you understand. Find out where the procedure or test will take place. Are you able to take someone with you into the treatment area? Do not be shy. It is your health at stake.
    2. Clarify . If you do not understand the treatment recommendation(s), ask for clarification. Get a second opinion. Get a third opinion if you are still wary. Talk to friends who have had similar medical problems. If you think of additional questions after your visit, call the doctor. Leave a message with his assistant or a nurse. Some practices now offer you the option to email your questions or leave questions in voicemail.
    3. Evaluate . Do your homework. Utilize the library, Internet, and other medical sources to do some research. Books and magazines are incredibly useful tools when researching medical conditions and treatments.
    Dr. Warren Slack explores the value of using the Internet for healthcare information in his book, Cybermedicine: How Computing Empowers Doctors and Patients for Better Healthcare. While the Internet is not an infallible source of medical information, information culled from the Internet does provide a basis for patient and doctor to initiate a dialogue.

    Do not Settle

    Take the time to find a doctor that will meet your healthcare needs. Remember to ask questions about any diagnosis, treatment or medical procedure. If you knew all the answers, you would not need the doctor!

    RESOURCES

    American Cancer Society: Talking with your doctor http://www.cancer.org/

    National Women's Health Information Center http://www.womenshealth.gov/

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    Canadian Family Physician http://www.cfpc.ca/

    Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) http://www.cihi.ca/

    References

    Information for patients and purchasers of health services. Healthcare Choices website. Available at: http://www.healthcarechoices.org .

    Northrup C. Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom . Bantam Books; 1998.

    Slack WV. Cybermedicine: How Computing Empowers Doctors and Patients for Better Healthcare . Jossey-Bass Publishers; 1997.

    Talking with your doctor. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/ .

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