If you want to get healthy, first and foremost you need a good doctor. Too bad you can’t all see my husband, because he really is a great doctor (I know I’m extremely biased!) but he isn’t taking new patients at the moment anyway. Even though I live with him, he is certainly not my doctor. I see one of his partners and I think she’s wonderful. She is a good listener and takes my complaints far more seriously than my husband ever would! I admit, at first it was a bit awkward, since she works with my spouse. My doctor knows ALL about me and she has seen “my business” up close. It’s a bit disconcerting, but I got used to it eventually. My husband says doctors don’t think these thoughts at all – I guess if you’ve seen one naked person, you’ve seen them all…but I digress. Chances are, you won’t be at a dinner party with your doctor.
There are plenty of good doctors out there as well as plenty of bad ones. You need to do your homework. Ask friends and family and coworkers and cashiers and your plumber and teachers, etc. If you have a specialist you like, like an OB-GYN (who contrary to popular opinion should NOT be your primary care person) you could ask her too.
And be sure to think about what kind of doctor you like. My husband spends a lot of time with patients and really explains things to them. This means he’s always behind schedule and people have to wait to see him. Some people think he’s worth it, but I’m sure it drives other patients crazy. He also gives patients all the information and options so they can make their own informed decisions about their own health. Some people just want a doc who makes the decisions for them and gets them in and out quickly. So when you’re asking around, make sure you find out what people like and appreciate about their doctor as well as what they don’t like. Also ask about the office staff and nurses. Are they friendly? Is there a maddening phone tree or do you speak with a live person when you call? Most likely they are affiliated with a certain hospital system or certain type of insurance (remember affiliated doesn’t necessarily mean limited to) so find out about that too. Basically make sure you investigate the things that matter to YOU.
When you find a good candidate, make a “get to know you” appointment. I know this sounds crazy because you don’t WANT to pay a copay to get to know the doctor, but you should. The doc needs to be paid for his/her time and you deserve to make sure you’re getting the right doctor for you specifically. If you wait until you’re sick to make an appointment, you’ll be feeling lousy and won’t take the time to ask questions and the doctor will just want to address that one problem and won’t have time to get to know you. You pay for movies and pizza and cell phones and designer clothes, so save a little and pay for this appointment. You’re worth it.
What questions should you ask? Definitely have some prepared questions so you don’t waste too much time trying to think of what to say. You could ask about her background, where she went to undergrad and medical school, how long she’s been practicing at this location, or any other locations. How many patients does she have and how quickly can people normally get in to see her? Which hospital systems and specialists does she typically refer patients to and how many other care providers are in the practice in case you can’t get an appointment with your doctor soon enough? How does she handle medication refills? Also how does she handle being on call – are you ever able to reach her directly? And how quickly does she typically return phone messages, etc.?
Really it’s up to you to ask about the things that are important to you personally. Keep in mind that if this person is an established physician with a good reputation, they are busy and you may have to wait for an appointment, unless it’s an acute issue in which case they or someone in their practice may be able to see you more quickly. Also because they are busy, they probably won’t answer phone messages until the end of their patient day. We like to think the world revolves around us as a patient, but a good doctor has a lot of patients and they are all important. Unless you want to pay for a personal physician, you need to wait your turn.
So take the time to get to know your doctor, and more importantly, schedule some time for your doctor to get to know you.