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Tips for Selecting a Doctor

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Tips for Selecting a Doctor

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Tips for Selecting a DoctorYou need to select a doctor. You’re pretty sure it’s not anything exotic. You’ve got a fever or a cough, and you don’t want to be seen by residents and interns and medical students. You don’t feel well; you just want to get better.

Talk to your doctor. If you don’t have a doctor, or you’re out of the area, consider the local hospitals. You don’t want to go to anywhere that’s tiny unless they have a strong affiliation with a large hospital or medical center nearby.

For example, your belly hurts. It ends up being appendicitis, gallbladder disease, or diverticulitis. A hospital that has too few beds, patients, and doctors may not have a proper emergency physician to see you and may not have proper specialty surgical care available. In an unfamiliar hospital, you don’t know whether you’ll see their best or their worst doctors.

Ask Questions
You can call colleagues who are medical malpractice attorneys and find out what they know about the doctors in the area. Normally, you can try to select a doctor based on a few different questions and qualities. Bad doctors are often sued and aren’t tolerated by groups of physicians. If a doctor is in a group, it’s a good sign. If he practices alone, it might or might not mean anything.

Board Certified Doctors

Is the doctor board-certified in the field? That’s an important question. It’s not that all good doctors are board-certified, and all bad doctors are not, but it’s one of the few objective yardsticks you can use.

Board certification in a particular field of medicine means the doctor has taken prescribed training, generally lasting 3 to 7 years, and passed a standardized, national examination. If the doctor who sees you is not board certified, you’re well within your rights to ask if he’s taken the boards and how many times. If he or she hasn’t taken the boards, ask why not. These questions are appropriate for the ER doctor and any surgeons or specialists assigned to your case.

How do you do that? You ask, “Are you board certified?” If the ER doctor is calling someone in, ask him if the doctor is board certified. He can find out if he doesn’t know.

Would you choose an accountant who wasn’t certified, a lawyer who failed his bar, or a plumber who didn’t have a license? Why settle for someone who can’t pass the standardized examination in his chosen field of medicine?

Is it rude? It’s your health and your right. You’ve never met the person before, and it is a question that makes sense.

While you can request a doctor who is board certified, you might not get one. You might accept the reason someone is not boarded. She might say, “I graduated last June and take the exam in September.” You will decide if you can live with that. An ER doctor might say, “I have practiced in the ER for fifteen years but am not eligible to take the exam because I didn’t have a residency.” Lots of good doctors will give you that answer.

Specialist Doctors

For a specialist, only the first answer above makes sense, because all specialists go through a residency. So what do you do? You can request a board-certified doctor, which you may or may not get. You can request a transfer. This can also get sticky. Often you need to know someone at the hospital to which you want to go. If the hospital advertises, though, they usually want patients. Arrangements often may be made through a “transfer center” at the receiving hospital, or through the ER doctor.

If you are at a small hospital that is a “satellite”—a feeder hospital for a larger facility—the hospital will usually require its physicians to achieve board certification. In addition, the smaller hospital is often used to transfer patients to the larger hospital.

Other Criteria for Choosing a Doctor

Talk to the doctor. Decide whether you think the doctor seems intelligent, caring, and “on the ball.” It’s like interviewing anyone else, except that your life or health may depend on how well you can judge. Sometimes you can seek a recommendation, but usually, the staff at a hospital’s emergency department is obliged to refer you to the doctor on call.

Nothing prevents you from asking the ER doctor or the staff, “Do you use that doctor? Have you or a member of your family used that doctor?” Ask the ER nurse, “Is this a doctor you trust?” Nurses who are familiar with the doctors on staff usually have well-informed opinions about their capabilities and communication skills. They have experience interacting with the physicians, are familiar with their personalities, and know whether the physicians treat the nurses as subservient or as part of the team.

Sometimes you just have no choice. You hope for the best. Possibly you’ll have a family member who can scout for you, and you consider what else you can do. If you’re being admitted, and you’re not all that happy about the doctor who is admitting you, you may ask for a different doctor. Speak to the ER physician, ER nurses, or nursing supervisor to get a recommendation. Depending on your medical problem, you may also need a specialist from cardiology, surgery, neurology, pulmonary, or another field. Your attending physician will request the help of these specialists.

How does that help? Your primary doctor—the one to whom you are admitted, via the ER—may be mediocre, but if 4 or 5 doctors are in your case, chances are that there’s enough combined brain power to assure you good care.

Dean Dobkin, M.D. wrote this guest blog.

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