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Work Closely With Your Doctor


Overview

Good health care doesn't just happen. You have to do your part. Taking an active role in your health care is the best way to make sure you get great care and reduce costs at the same time.

A strong partnership between you and your doctor is key to getting great care and reducing costs. A doctor who not only knows your medical history but understands what's important to you may be the resource you need most when you face a major health care decision.

Find a Doctor Who Will Be a Partner

A primary care physician such as a family medicine doctor or an internist who knows and understands your needs can be your most valuable health partner. Specialists who work on separate health problems may not see your whole health picture or get a good understanding of what's important to you. When you choose a doctor, there are lots of questions to ask, but these three matter the most:

  • Is the doctor well trained and experienced?
  • Will the doctor be available when needed?
  • Will the doctor work in partnership with me?

Training and experience

For most people, a good choice for a primary care physician is a board-certified family medicine doctor or an internist. For children and teens, a board-certified pediatrician or family medicine doctor is a good choice.

A doctor becomes board-certified by completing training in a specialty area and passing an examination to demonstrate that he or she has the skills and experience needed to practice that medical specialty. To maintain their certification, doctors must take continuing medical education courses and pass periodic examinations. Board-certified family doctors, internists, and pediatricians have knowledge about many common medical problems. For more information, see the topic Medical Specialists.

Availability

Because health problems rarely develop when it's convenient, it helps to have a doctor who can see you when needed. Before you select a doctor, call or visit his or her office. Tell the clinic receptionist that you are looking for a new doctor. Ask these questions:

  • Is the doctor accepting new patients?
  • What are the office hours?
  • If I called right now for a routine visit, how soon could I be seen?
  • How much time is allowed for a routine visit?
  • If I cancel an appointment, will I be charged for it?
  • Will the doctor discuss health problems over the phone or by email?
  • Does the doctor work with nurse practitioners or physician assistants? (These health professionals have special training in managing minor and routine medical problems. They can often see you sooner, take care of minor health problems, and communicate with your regular doctor about your concerns.)
  • Who fills in for the doctor when he or she is not available?
  • What hospitals does the doctor use?
  • Does the doctor belong to my health plan, and will the office bill my insurance for me?

Partner potential

During your first visit, tell your doctor that you would like to share in making treatment decisions. Pay attention to how you feel during the visit.

  • Does the doctor listen well?
  • Does the doctor speak to you in terms you can understand?
  • Does the doctor spend enough time with you?
  • Do you think you could build a good working relationship with the doctor?

If the answers are no, look for another doctor. It may take more than one visit for you to decide whether you will be able to work with a doctor.

Is it time for a change?

If you are unhappy with how your doctor treats you, it may be time for a change. Before you start looking for a new doctor, talk with your current doctor about how you would like to be treated. Your doctor will probably be pleased to work with you as a partner if you tell him or her that's what you want. If you don't make your wishes known, your doctor may think that you, like many people, want him or her to do all the work.

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eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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