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About Your Doctor

Maybe you've moved, or your current doctor is retiring. Looking for a new doctor can be time consuming. Give yourself a few weeks for the search, especially if you have some complicated or chronic medical condition. Following a few simple steps will create a smooth transition.

Make a list of characteristics you want in a doctor. Perhaps location is important, especially if you have a medical condition that requires regular, frequent visits. Often patients relate best to someone of their own demographic or ethnic group, especially if they speak English as a second language. If you work full time, will you be able to attend the clinic during regular office hours, or is after-hours or walk-in access a necessity? Ask how busy the doctor is, and how long the wait time is for an appointment. Physically visit the office and evaluate the traffic and the availability of parking, or the closeness to bus routes if you plan to take the bus.

Of course, also make sure the doctor accepts your form of health insurance. Depending on which health insurance plan you subscribe to, you may be restricted to seeing only certain doctors in your area. If you see a doctor outside your plan, you may end up paying extra fees. Ask whether the doctor's staff will process your claims, or whether you will have to do it yourself. If you use Medicare, be sure to find out whether the physician accepts this, as Medicare fees are lower than private fees and some doctors refuse to work for less.

Other aspects might be important to you as well, including which hospital the doctor uses and whether or not the physician works in a group or individual practice. If the practice has several other doctors, it may be easier to get care when your personal physician goes on vacation, since you will be familiar to the staff and your medical history will be on hand.

Decide what kind of qualifications you seek in a physician. General practitioners treat a wide variety of health conditions, but may be inexperienced at treating rare conditions. Family practitioners provide care for patients of all ages, and they provide the convenience of treating the concerns of the whole family in one clinic. General Internists provide care for adults only, covering a wide range of diseases. Specialists are internists with extra training in a specific area. For example, a rheumatologist is specially trained to treat inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

General practitioners, family practitioners and general internists are called primary care providers because they treat a wide range of problems, and act as gatekeeper for specialists. Some health plans force patients to seek a referral from a primary care physician in order to be referred to a specialist.

If you have a medical condition requiring specialized care, make sure to check whether the physician has treated cases like yours and has received formal training in the subject.

Sometimes, it is possible to get references from a friend or relative who is under the doctor's care. Ask about their experiences, whether the doctor genuinely listens to their concerns or just writes them a prescription before rushing on to the next patient. Also, if you have heard that a particular clinic or hospital in your vicinity is good, ask the hospital's referral service about the doctors who work there. Local, county or state medical societies have lists of doctors and their qualifications. The AMA (American Medical Association) is a national organization which allows you to search listings by specialty or name. .

It is possible to check your new doctor's credentials online. Administrators in Medicine, the national organization of state medical board executive directors, lists state websites providing this information, though not all states list physician credentials online. Depending on the information available from your state board, you can read whether the doctor is currently licensed to practice medicine and whether there is any record of disciplinary action.

Last but not least, go talk to the doctor. A personal interview can reveal facts listed nowhere, and you will find out how well you get along with the doctor on a personal level. The doctor may charge for this introductory appointment. However, it insures a greater level of satisfaction when you turn to your new doctor for medical advice in the future.

Submitted by:

Frank Vanderlugt

Frank Vanderlugt is interested in Medical Care. About Your Doctor.




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