MAYWOOD, Ill. – As Valentine’s Day approaches we start to think about “The One.” It causes us to evaluate the people in our lives and our relationships. And one of the most intimate and crucial relationships we have is with our physician. Finding the right doctor is a lot like finding the right relationship partner. This Valentine’s Day maybe it’s also a good time to ponder finding “Dr. Right."
“There are a lot of great doctors out there but finding the right one for you can be difficult. A great way to start, as with any relationship, is to evaluate yourself and your needs,” said Anita Varkey, MD, internal medicine physician at Loyola University Health System and associate professor in the Department of Medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Varkey said the first question to ask is, “What kind of doctor do you need?”
“We all need a good primary care physician. You should think of your primary care physician as your “go-to” doctor. Who do you go to when you have a question about your health or need a prescription refill?” Varkey said.
Though other physicians, such as OB/GYNs, can be considered “primary care,” the following four different types of physicians are usually what are thought of as primary care doctors.
Pediatrician: Pediatricians specialize in the treatment of newborns, infants, children and adolescents. It is their role to plan and carry out a medical care program for children – from birth through adolescence. They provide preventive health care as well as care for acute and chronic illness.
Adult Internal Medicine/Internist: Internal medicine doctors, internists, specialize in the study, diagnosis and treatment of nonsurgical diseases in adult patients. An internist is trained to diagnose and treat complex illnesses, as well as manage the prevention of illness.
Med/Peds Physician: Doctors who specialize in internal medicine and pediatrics have completed a combined residency program in internal medicine and pediatrics. They are able to provide preventive care as well as care for the complex medical problems of adults and children.
Family Medicine Physician: Family medicine doctors provide continuing comprehensive primary care to your whole family. They deal mostly in an outpatient clinical setting. They see patients of all ages.
“In addition, there are numerous subspecialists. But if you have a good, trusting relationship with your primary care physician, she or he can put you in touch with a good specialist,” Varkey said.
After you have some doctors in mind, it is a good idea to check their credentials. To practice medicine in the United States, doctors must be licensed by the states in which they work. However, being licensed does not indicate whether a doctor is qualified to practice in a specific medical specialty, such as family medicine, surgery or dermatology. One of the best ways to know if your doctor has the qualifications to provide care is to find out if he or she is board certified and participating in activities to stay up-to-date with the latest advances in medicine and patient care. To find out if a doctor is board certified, contact the American Board of Medical Specialties.
Next, make sure the doctor you want to see accepts your insurance. Insurance companies usually have a list of physicians who accept their insurance. If you are interested in a certain physician, contact his or her office and ask if your insurance is accepted.
Finally, ask yourself what characteristics are important to you in a physician. Are you a stickler for punctuality or do you prefer a doctor who takes more time with patients?
“Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to have it both ways. What is most important to you – a doctor who is always on time or a doctor who spends lots of time with a patient? Make a list of what is important to you in the patient/doctor relationship,” Varkey said.
She also gives suggestions for other things to keep in mind when choosing a physician:
- The location of the office. Even if he or she is the best physician, do you have the time to drive to and from the medical office for scheduled appointments?
With which hospital is your physician affiliated? If you were to be admitted to a hospital, is there one you would prefer? If so, make sure your physician has admitting rights there.
- You need to feel completely comfortable with your doctor. If it’s easier for you to talk to a woman, seek a woman doctor. Do you want someone younger or someone older? The most important thing is for you to feel comfortable and open with your physician.
- The entire medical team. A medical office is more than just a doctor. Is the office staff helpful? Are the nurses responsive? If you like the doctor, but have problems with the team, talk to your doctor about it.
“This is one of your most important relationships, so take it seriously. This really is a person who will be there in sickness and in health,” Varkey said.