What do I need to consider when choosing a doctor for my family?
First, it should be said that choosing a physician who meets the specific needs of your family is not a task to take lightly – and I say this as both a doctor and a father. Unfortunately, it can often be all too difficult, because patients generally lack access to real-time, verifiable information regarding medical providers. In a recent online survey Harris Interactive conducted on ZocDoc’s behalf, 58 percent of applicable respondents said that they simply do not know how to adequately evaluate whether or not a new doctor or dentist is right for them. At ZocDoc, our mission is to improve access to care and help put some of the power and information back in patients’ hands – and in doing so, take some of the ‘aches and pains’ out of finding and booking an appointment with a doctor who is perfect for you and your family.
There are a number of factors to consider when seeking a new doctor. Do they accept your insurance? Are they qualified? Are they conveniently located? Are they accepting new patients? Are you able to get in quickly to get care for yourself and your family? Do they have a track record of success with other patients? This is just the beginning of a long list of questions that patients have to ask. Let’s break it down into a few categories.
Vetting the Doctor
While it’s great to get recommendations from trusted friends and family, choosing a new physician is a highly personal process. The right doctor for your loved one may not be the right doctor for you. They may not even accept your insurance.
That’s why it’s a good idea to begin your search by looking at more objective matters, like the insurances accepted by the practice and the doctor’s education and credentials. You can do this by speaking to the doctor’s office or by researching online.
Different patients value different qualities, and reading online reviews of doctors is another great way to ‘vet’ your new physician. In doing so, you’ll often hear from a wide range of patients. This can give you a better overall sense of the doctor in areas like bedside manner, wait time, and communication.
It’s important to ensure you’re reading verified reviews on a reputable site – ideally, the patient writing the review actually saw the doctor of interest. Services like ours solicit reviews only from patients who booked and attended their appointment, which means you have access to an authentic and fair reflection of the experience of seeing that doctor. It’s also important to get a sense of the office atmosphere, which you can do not only by reading patient reviews but by looking at photos of the practitioner and his or her office.
Don’t Ignore the Specifics
Attributes like the doctor’s gender, the languages he or she speaks, and the office location may seem trivial, but can very much affect your satisfaction with a new physician. If you think your child (or you, for that matter) would feel more comfortable with a male or female doctor, it’s alright to screen for that. Similarly, if English isn’t your first language, you might prefer practitioners who can speak your native tongue. Your health depends on flawless communication with your healthcare provider, and medical jargon is complicated enough already! Lastly, it’s hard enough for people to find time to get to the doctor, so choosing a location that’s convenient for you – be it near your home, office, or another central location – is key in ensuring that you can easily attend the appointments you schedule.
Ensuring Speedy Access
Once you’ve drawn up a list of healthcare providers who meet your criteria, you need to ensure that you and your family can access them. It’s important to know whether they are happily accepting new patients, and whether you’ll be able to see them in a timely manner.
It may come as a shock to learn that the average wait time to see a doctor in the US is approximately three weeks. With ZocDoc, most patients are able to see a doctor in 24 to 72 hours. When you or your family need urgent medical attention, nothing is more important than that fast access to care.
Getting the Most Out of Your Visit
Having selected a doctor, there are a few ways you can prepare beforehand to get the most out of your visit. It can be extremely useful to go into the visit armed with a list of questions you want to ask. If you are booking an appointment for an acute problem, it’s a good idea to keep track of your symptoms: When do they occur, and what are the triggers? What exactly do you experience? Has anyone among your close contacts experienced something similar? If you take more medications than you can remember, bring them with you; the same goes for your medical history.
When you visit the doctor, he or she will frequently guide your discussion. But be sure that by the end of your visit, you have answers to all of your questions, you clearly understand what the doctor has said, and you know what the next steps are. If you can’t remember the instructions on how to use a drug or medical device, ask your physician to write them down for you. If you are referred to a specialist, feel free ask what questions you should bring to that doctor.
After your appointment, consider writing down what you have learned so you can refer to it later. And if you can, I suggest that you leave an online review of your doctor. This is a great way to ‘pay it forward,’ and help out other patients as they embark on their own search for a new physician as you once did.
Oliver Kharraz, MD, is the founder and chief operating officer of ZocDoc, a new, free service for Boston residents. Founded in 2007, ZocDoc is improving access to healthcare by enabling patients to search for doctors by location, insurance accepted, gender, or language; to read verified reviews; and to instantly book appointments online or via the free ZocDoc App for iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry. There are over seven million medical appointments available on ZocDoc. More than 1.3 million people use ZocDoc to find a doctor or dentist each month.