Research suggests that having access to a primary care physician increases life expectancy. More than specialist doctors, primary care providers (PCPs) forge lasting relationships with their patients that often translate into better preventive and intuitive care. Apparently, but not surprisingly, routine (even if relatively short) visits with their patients help PCPs develop a deeper understanding of their medical issues, behavior and preferences. It’s an understanding that makes it easier for primary care doctors to anticipate and respond to their patients’ physical and emotional needs, with the happy result being the improvement of patients’ health and the prolonging of their lives. With this in mind, then, it’s critical that we take the time to choose the best physician possible for our own unique needs. Here’s how to pick the right doctor in five simple steps:
Ask for Recommendations
You look for recommendations when you want to go out to eat or change your hairstyle or try a new fashion trend. It only makes sense that you search for recommendations for doctors, as well. Ask your friends and family about their doctors. Everyone is different, and a doctor who might click with one of your friends, might not click with you. But personal references are a good way to start whittling down your list of prospective candidates.
Search Within Your Network
If you have a few doctors in mind, check with your insurance plan to see if they’re in your network of providers. You’ll want to verify that whoever you ultimately choose accepts your insurance, as many plans either charge you more to see out of network providers or deny coverage altogether.
You can pick a stellar doctor, but if she’s not in a convenient location, it’s unlikely you’ll make use of her services. Consider the length of time it will take you to get to each doctor, as well as the probable traffic conditions along the way, and choose a physician that balances convenience with expertise.
Once you have a specific practitioner in mind, take the time to verify his or her credentials. You can start with the Federation of State Medical Boards for basic information about the educational background and licenses of your prospects, as well as any disciplinary actions taken against them. You can also do an online search using the name of the doctor in question (such as “Dr. John Doe”) along with “malpractice” or “lawsuit” or other similar terms to try to uncover any actionable offenses. Many physicians have the same or similar names, so make sure that you are researching the right doctor in the correct state(s). Just like market researchers follow a specific market research process or scientists adhere to the scientific process in order to get the most relevant data and make sound decisions and conclusions, you should also thoroughly investigate all your options!
Give Things a Test Run
Anyone can look good on paper. Thus, don’t settle on a doctor without personally checking her out first. See if your personalities “click” and if she takes enough time with you to satisfy your concerns. Evaluate her staff. Is the receptionist friendly? Can you easily make an appointment? How are the wait times? Do you feel comfortable talking to her and her nurse about personal things? Only you know which answers will affect your overall choice, with some holding more importance to you than others. Regardless of how you decide which factors matter most, you should get a “gist” of whether it feels right or not. Trust your gut and either sign up for an appointment next year or keep searching; the stakes are too high to do anything less!