How to Choose a Doctor
In twenty years as a physical therapist I have had the opportunity to help many people with physical problems but also to help guide people through the process of seeking medical care. Many questions recur over time but the most frequent (and possibly most important) is "how do I choose a doctor?" As someone with inside knowledge of a medical community I cannot imagine the stress of suddenly needing a physician and trying to figure out what kind of doctor and which one of the right kind I should see. This is honestly one of the reasons my wife and I have made the decision to stay in our community as long as we have. So what if you aren't plugged in? How do you pick?
Before we get into how you find one let's talk about how NOT TO FIND A DOCTOR:
1. Do not just pick one from the yellow pages. All doctors are not equally talented at diagnosis and technique. I have seen many people go so far as to have surgery by a doctor they literally picked out of the phone book. Unfortunately, most of these do not end well.
2. Don't choose solely on the advice of your best friend or the first guy you meet when you move to town.
3. Don't pick a doctor for your problem just because they did well with a friend of yours who had a different problem. Medicine has become so specialized these days that the old "jack of all trades" doc cannot be an expert in everything. A general practitioner is not likely to have the knowledge that an internist has. An internist is not as capable at diagnosis stomach problems as a gastroenterologist will be. It has even gone so far that specialists specialize. There are orthopedic surgeons who are renowned at shoulder surgery but are far from the best at hips and knees.
The bottom line is that you have to do your research. This is not unique to medicine. Most people are going to talk to multiple contractors before getting their bathrooms remodeled. Even insurance companies make you get three estimates before getting your wrecked car repaired. Remember that when you are seeking medical services you are still hiring a person to work for you and you need to spend as much time interviewing a provider for the most important work you will ever have done as you would if you needed a plumber or home builder.
So what do you do? The end goal is that you keep searching until you find the person that feels right to you. There are many steps before you pick a physician with which to consult but at the end of it all if he/she is rude/not interested or condescending during your appointment then you probably need to move on. There are certainly great doctors out there with terrible bedside manners, it has been my experience that people who speak down to you or seem self important are generally compensating for a lack of ability.
To find a doctor/surgeon/provider take these steps:
1. Ask at least 10 people who have been in the community a while. Bad news travels fast and while some people will have unsubstantiated biases, the more you ask the more of a pattern you will see.
2. Verify what you hear with other healthcare providers. If you need an anesthesiologist, ask your dentist, GP and the athletic trainer at your child's school. Go so far as to call providers and just ask their opinion. I have had many people call our office to ask our opinion on surgeons since physical therapists typically see results from a cross section of providers. Many physical therapists and chiropractors offer free screens for injuries. Schedule one of those and see who they recommend for your problem. Ask where they would send their family member with your problem. Don't be afraid to go to a couple places.
3. Match all of this with internet reviews. I have seen some ridiculously wrong reviews online but you may be able to line up what you have heard in the community with what you read.
4. If the choice is not clear, pick the top 3 finishers and go see them all. Have a list of question prepared. Judge them on their willingness to answer and how they speak to you. Ask them "how many of these have you seen?". You want the one who has successfully been there the most.
Take all this information and ask yourself this question "If everything went completely wrong which one of these could/would I look back and be able to say I chose the right guy?" Your ultimately looking for the most talented provider who cares the most about their patients. Once you answer that question don't look back. Rely on that person's guidance. Don't keep asking your friends because they will just confuse you if any of them happen to disagree.