Choosing a doctor should be done the same way you choose anything really important, with the right combination of facts tempered by your gut. We societally hold doctors in such high regard, with an almost religious respect for their authority, and many of them are convinced that such regard is appropriate. However, doctors are humans first and foremost—which is why they have malpractice insurance. When you get health insurance, your choice of doctors becomes important, especially if you have an HMO or managed care plan.
Why Your Doctor is So Important
When you get your policy particulars, find out if you have to choose a primary care physician from the insurance company’s network of providers (HMO), or if you can see anyone you like (PPO). If you have a managed care plan, your primary care physician is vitally important, because it is going to be that doctor that makes the important decisions for you, if you need referrals, and who signs off on your claims.
Trust is Key
Regardless of the type of plan, though, you’ll still have the same needs from your physician. They should be someone who has time for you and your family, someone who is available and responsive, and whose staff is well-trained and friendly. A bad sign is when you never get a call back or have to wait weeks for an appointment. Above all, though, you need to be able to trust them. If you get a bad vibe about the person, you won’t be able to confide in them, and a doctor is someone you should be able to confide even the most embarrassing things in, whether it’s a bloody stool or that you’re going through bouts of depression.
Do Your Homework
If you or someone on your policy has chronic health problems or potential issues, make sure the doctor is well-versed in the subject. For example, if you have sickle-cell anemia and your doctor has never treated someone with that ailment, which has its own very particular symptoms and treatments, you might consider taking your business elsewhere. If you have a big, growing family, make sure the doctor and his staff are suited to caring for kids, because not all do.
Listen to Others
Ask around for referrals, like from schools and hospitals, as long as the doctor is on your provider list if you’re in an HMO. If you hear all kinds of stories about bad experiences, you should just cross that doctor off your list. Also, it may seem academic, but make sure they have a good legal and medical reputation. Check for malpractice suits. Make sure they’re up to date on their certifications, that their license is in good standing, and if they’re a specialist that they’re licensed in that specialty.
Choosing a doctor is an important decision to make, regardless of your situation, because when something bad happens to you, your doctor is where you will likely look to first. They will hear your stories, and they should want to listen to them, because that’s a huge part of proper patient care and diagnosis. I remember one doctor I had in Texas, who treated my whole family. She was someone I’d just call up to ask a quick question of, and I knew she’d answer it for me, even if she was busy. Even though she had a huge caseload, I knew she remembered us. It was comforting.
It’s a heady, heavy responsibility being a doctor, and it’s a big responsibility to entrust your health and that of your loved ones to someone else. Make sure it’s a relationship built on trust that is capable of bearing that responsibility on both ends.