Choosing the right health care practitioner for you is not easy, but it is important. The person you see for your medical care, and the people they work with, can save your life, or they may kill you, so giving this decision some thought is a good idea.
Of course, your views regarding your health care team, and your experience, are somewhat subjective. Not every doctor is the perfect fit for every patient, and vice versa. You need to find someone who is right for you. And, just as important, they need to work within a practice which is right for you. Entailed in this brief section are tips that may help you find that right combination.
Unfortunately, who you see may be limited, and somewhat out of your control. Private insurance plans, and your local Medicare and Medicaid administrators, the crux of America’s nightmare health care system, limit who you are allowed to see. And, of course, you are limited to those health care practitioners available in your area.
Choose Someone with Whom You Resonate:
Hey, you may need to share intimate details of your life with your health care provider. You also need to be able to depend on them as you go through some pretty tough moments. You want to do that with someone with whom you are comfortable. I won’t go so far as to suggest that you need to like your doctor, but it’s not a bad thing if you do. It’s not bad if they like you, either (but keep it platonic, please).
At the most basic level, your health care experience is determined by your relationship with your health care team. That team should consist of people with whom you resonate, or feel comfortable, and who seem to care about you and the type of health care you receive.
You Should Have a Medical Doctor, and Your Medical Doctor Should Be the First Person You Consult:
I freely admit I have a bias here, as I am a medical doctor. But, if you have a potentially serious condition, the best person, and the best first person to turn to, is a medical doctor.
A medical doctor’s training, while not perfect, is extremely long and rigorous (and never ends). I’m not saying that seeing a medical doctor guarantees the correct diagnosis and treatment. I’m saying that the odds that you will get that are best with a medical doctor.
Again, I am biased, but I do not believe that other types of health caregivers have enough training, or the necessary perspective, that they should be the first link in the health care chain. My anecdotal experience supports this, as well. That is not to say that other types of health practitioners do not have diagnostic skills, or that they cannot play an important role in your care. I just believe that you are likely to be best served by seeing a medical doctor first.
Once you have seen a medical doctor, and you have heard their opinion, and especially if they do not feel that you have a serious condition that requires specific medical therapy, seeking the care and input of an alternative or complementary caregiver is reasonable. If your team can work together (or at least communicate with one another), all the better!
The Key Determinant of The Quality of Care You Receive is the Amount of Time You Spend with Your Practitioner:
That’s right, folks. The one thing that more than anything else determines the quality of your care is time. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the things in shortest supply when it comes to the modern medical environment.
Just think about it, though. It makes sense that if we have time to work through your potentially complicated history, your current complaints and then examine you, it is more likely we will accurately and get to the heart of the matter. If we rush, or have to cut corners, it’s easy to make a mistake. It’s that simple.
Of course, not every problem demands a long appointment. Also, sometimes speed, and efficiency, are of the essence, especially in an emergency. But I can’t tell you how many times a complicated case was solved near the end of a lengthy appointment, when our long and winding conversation finally revealed the unexpected clue to the correct diagnosis.
When choosing a doctor, therefore, you should ask how much time they allot for basic appointments (at least 15 minutes, at a minimum), and also ask how many patients they see, on average, in an hour (2-4 is reasonable).
Continuity of Care:
Another important determinant of the quality of care you receive is whether you usually get to see the same person for most of your appointments. This is referred to as continuity of care.
This is a no brainer. I can guarantee you that when a patient and I have known each other for a longer time their care is better and easier to deliver. First of all, we typically build a bond of trust, which has subtle but significant benefits (and takes time). Second, it’s easier to make decisions about a patient when you know their issues thoroughly. It’s even better when you know their family, friends, and neighbors. It can all come in to play.
So, when you are attempting to find a health care practitioner, ask about continuity of care, and how they value and deliver this important aspect of your medical care.
Provides Access to Care:
You can have the best doctor in the world, but if you can’t get in to see them in a timely manner, then it doesn’t matter how good they are.
You need a doctor that will see you when you are sick, same day usually, and immediately, if necessary. If they don’t offer that, then they can’t help you. Don’t go there.
You should also have some way to reach the doctor’s office during off hours. If they don’t offer that, find another practice.
Probably ‘nuff said, but you should also pay attention to other forms of access and communication. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call, or a quick email (it is the 21st century, isn’t it?). You might even ask if your health care provider makes house calls!?!? I do!
Guess what? It’s not all about the doctor! The doctor has staff that may be just as important as he or she is (sometimes even more important) when it comes to your care. The other people working in a medical facility can play a crucial role in helping or hindering your medical care. In a true emergency, there may not be time to get the doctor. The staff may be your lifeline!
All of the suggestions above about finding the right doctor should be applied to the staff as well.
Well run office:
Just as important as a good doctor, and good staff, is how well a medical facility is run. Do they stay on time? Do they follow through with referrals? Do they seem to care about you? Does everyone appear happy, bright, and well fed?
I hear, all too often, stories about great doctors who have poorly run offices, where patients can’t get appointments, communication is lacking, and the staff does not seem to care (or they are too demoralized to care any more). Try to avoid those practices.
Small Practices Are Often Better Practices:
Once again, I admit to a bias. I work in a small practice. However, the evidence is mounting that smaller practices deliver better, more personalized care.
The basic American business model is that bigger is better. As I have seen many health care systems grow, I have also seen the care that they deliver diminish. It has been a sad and dangerous progression.
This is more complicated than you thought, isn’t it? Bottom line, it may not be possible to get everything you need from your doctor and medical practice, but you should try. Ask questions before you make your first appointment, listen to your friends and neighbors, read what you can online, and good luck!