Looking for a good internist, pediatrician, obstetrician or dentist?
Our resident doctor weighs in on important questions worth asking before you settle on a health care provider.
Good health is central to a fulfilling and productive life. Finding the right primary health care provider for you and your family is a very important decision. An excellent doctor can help prevent disease, identify it early, advise you on the best treatment and support you through illness and healing. Don’t wait until you have a health crisis to find the right person.
Although your search may start by simply asking a friend or family member who they like and trust, a great find relies on a methodical approach and thoughtful questions. Consider your own priorities as you read on, as each individual may weigh the criteria outlined differently. Here is a guide to selecting the best provider for you:
INSURANCE & FINANCIALS
- Many people prefer to work within the parameters of their health and dental insurance to find an in-network provider, particularly for primary care. Obtain a list of providers — it’s a great place to start. Make sure you ask if there are additional fees for forms, phone calls and the like.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
- Consider proximity and parking, particularly if you anticipate frequent visits, as you might if you’re an expectant mother or a parent of very young children.
- If you are a working professional, consider the relative distances between the practice, your home and your office.
CREDENTIALS & QUALIFICATIONS
- Good ones improve your odds of receiving high-quality care.
- Ensure that the provider is, at a minimum, licensed by the state and not facing disciplinary action.
- Find someone who is board certified. This represents a superior level of qualification.
- Other professional associations are a good indicator of professional expertise and motivation. For example, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics meets additional requirements to remain current on medical issues.
- Where did the provider complete medical school and residency training? Was additional fellowship training completed? How many years has the provider been in practice, and where?
- There are websites that can let you know if your potential doctor is board certified. You can start with the American Board of Medical Specialties (abms.org).
AFFILIATIONS & NETWORKS
- Choose a doctor affiliated with a hospital (or hospitals) you respect, and who is well connected in the medical community. Why? Because at some point in your life, you will likely require more specialized care.
- In which hospitals does the provider have active medical privileges?
- To which emergency department does the provider refer patients, and to which hospitals are patients typically admitted? Who takes care of inpatients — your physician or a hospitalist? Both can provide great care, but you should know the arrangement.
- Should you require more sophisticated care, to which tertiary care centers does the provider refer patients? Is the physician familiar with multiple specialists in the area and at a tertiary care center?
- What are the hours of operation?
- Are extended after-or before-hours visits available on weekdays, weekends and holidays?
- Are walk-in appointments accepted, and. if so, when?
OFFICE LOGISTICS & COMMUNICATION
- Is this a solo or group practice? How many providers are in the group, and what are their qualifications?
- How long are appointment times for sick and well visits? What is the average wait time for the practice and for your provider? (There can be variability.)
- Is record keeping on paper or electronic? Is there an Internet-based “patient portal” where you can access your own personal health information?
- What in-office laboratory testing is available? What procedures can be performed in the office (X-rays, venipuncture)?
- Will I be able to see my chosen provider for checkups? For sick visits?
- Who handles urgent or emergency calls during the day or night? Who is the first- line responder, nurse or physician?
- If I wish to speak directly to my physician during the day, how are my calls handled? Does the provider have voicemail or use email? How long can I expect to wait for a call back?
THE PERSONAL SIDE
- If possible, meet with your potential provider ahead of time. Make sure you are well-aligned philosophically on issues that matter to you.
- Seek someone who is knowledgeable, stays current in his or her field, is professional, personable and inspires confidence! Choose someone to whom you can convey your concerns easily and from whom you can expect clear and honest answers. When faced with a difficult clinical situation, an outstanding provider will acknowledge his or her limits, and find the answers you need through further research and sub- specialty consultation.
- Finally, the majority of providers practice in a group setting. Over time, make sure you take the opportunity to meet the other practitioners. This will help ease anxiety in times of illness when your chosen provider is unavailable. It will also help those covering provide better care for you and your family. The relationship you build with your primary health care provider is an essential one. In an ideal world, this therapeutic health alliance can last for many wonderful years. There are competent physicians everywhere. Many people will need to change providers several times due to employment and insurance changes, relocation or simply because they need to find a better “fit.” A provider, carefully chosen, can be your best ally in managing unforeseen health care challenges and be your gateway to specialized care when you need it. Your dedicated time in this vital search is, indeed, well spent.
More Specific Provider Questions
ASK THE DENTIST
- How long have you been practicing your speciality? Pediatrics, orthodontics, endodontics, periodontics, oral surgery, prosthodontics specialists complete two to four years of post dental school training, but there are general dentists who have completed shorter fellowships and attended advanced courses that can perform procedures without being specialists. How do you manage apprehensive or difficult patients?
- If sedation is available in an office setting, what monitoring is used and what trained personnel would be present? There are various behavior management techniques, distractions, nitrous oxide sedation, oral sedation, IV sedation and treatment in a hospital setting under general anesthesia.
- What is the office policy on taking radiographs?
- When do you start taking radiographs? How often are they taken? Is digital radiography available? This exposes the patient to less radiation.
- What happens in the case of an emergency?
- Is there a doctor on call after hours? Is the doctor on call a specialist? Are emergency appointments available daily? Dentist Q&A by Dr. Stacy Zarakiotis, Greenwich Pediatric Dental Group, Greenwich, CT, 203-422-5437.
ASK THE INTERNIST
- What is your philosophy on health and wellness, as well as on illness, with regards to testing, medication, and alternative or holistic medicine? Specifically, you might ask your prospective provider to describe whether she generally takes a “wait and watch” approach to potential problems or whether she prefers to test and treat aggressively. Then, ask yourself which approach most closely aligns with your own comfort zone.
- How accessible are you to your patients and how do you communicate with your patients?
- How do you coordinate inpatient and outpatient care? Do you take care of your own patients in the hospital or is this done by a hospitalist?
ASK THE PEDIATRICIAN
- What is your philosophy on preventative health care such as vaccinations?
- What is your approach to illness and the use of medications?
- Who will care for my child in the event he or she is hospitalized?
ASK THE OBSTETRICIAN
- How many babies do you deliver each week, and what is your Caesarean section rate?
- What is your general philosophy about pregnancy, labor and delivery?
- Who will deliver my baby?
- How do you manage and honor birth plans?
“Dr. Katy” Noble is a mother of three with a vibrant practice, Sound Beach Pediatrics in Stamford, CT. She completed her residency at Harvard- affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital