By Dr. Dennis Yap
When it comes to choosing a primary care doctor, how do you decide? There are certainly more things to consider than simply finding a phone book, closing your eyes, pointing to a long list of physicians and choosing the one on which you land. There are many things to consider:
• Specialty: When choosing a primary care physician, you can choose what best fits your needs, whether that be a family practitioner, an internist, a pediatrician or OB/GYN. Keep in mind that choosing a family practitioner can combine the care for your entire family, and all members can see the same provider.
• Age/Maturity: Physicians range from fresh out of residency to nearly retiring. You have to consider what fits your needs the best, but often times a physician that has several years of experience, but isn’t nearing retirement is a great fit for most people.
• Values/Vision: Does the provider you are selecting have the same vision for your healthcare as you? Do you prefer to treat your ailments aggressively, or a bit more passively, and is this in line with how your doctor treats? Does the physician you are selecting have high moral and ethical values?
• Insurance coverage: This will determine if your care will be covered at in-network rates, so it is important to understand if your provider is contracted with your insurance plan. If you are uninsured, you will want to see if your provider accepts self pay patients, and you might even check to see if a discounted rate is offered. If you are insured by Medicare or Public Aid, you will need to see if your provider is accepting patients from those payors.
• Time (time to get an appointment, time spent waiting in the waiting room, time spent consulting with you in the exam room): Perhaps you are a busy mother/father, a professional, a person that doesn’t have a lot of extra time to be sitting around waiting to be called back for your appointment. Maybe you are retired and your doctor’s appointment is partly a social outing for you and you want to be sure your doctor will spend plenty of time talking with you.
• Finances: Does this physician also have your financial interests in mind, or just the financial interest of his/her employer (i.e. large clinic or hospital)? Be wary of the “one-stop shop” mentality…this often comes with a heftier price for the patient. There are very large price tags on those big buildings and sprawling campuses…shop around…you have choices in all aspects of your healthcare.
• Alliances/affiliations: There are doctors that are employed by a large clinic or hospital, there are doctors that are self-employed and part of a small group of physicians or those that are self-employed and have an individual practice. Be aware of forced alliances when seeing a primary care doctor that is employed by a group; choose a primary care doctor whom you can trust is recommending specialty providers based on his/her professional opinion of that provider vs. referring you to a certain provider simply based on the affiliation with that doctor’s group.
• Relationship: The ability to build a relationship with your physician is a crucial part of choosing the best primary care provider for you and your family, as you will be sharing very personal and sensitive information with this provider.
• Staff/Team: Evaluate your physician’s practice by the amount of turnover within the staff. An office that has had a nurse/doctor team that has worked together for many years can add consistency and alleviate uncertainty within your treatment plan, as well as give you the peace of mind that comes with familiarity.
• Convenience: Does the provider you are considering offer walk-in appointments, same or next-day appointments, access to the nurse and/or physician for questions? These are things to consider, as it can be frustrating to feel as if you are just a number and you must wait for your turn to have access to your doctor, especially when you are not feeling well.
• Location: Is the physician’s office in a convenient place for your needs? Do you prefer an office that is near your work, near your home, or in the area you run errands? Is parking easily accessible and close to the building?
• Recommendations: One of the best ways to determine if a physician is a good choice for you is to ask how satisfied other patients who are under the care of that physician.
When considering these items, you must determine what is important to you and what type of patient you tend to be. Are you a relatively healthy individual that strongly values your time? Do you have multiple complex medical concerns and need to be seen by multiple different specialists? These are the questions you must ask yourself and couple this with the other factors to consider when choosing a physician.
There’s no doubt the medical landscape is constantly changing, and with this change may come a change in the way your current provider handles you as a patient. In some cases, decreased reimbursement from insurance companies can create the need for a physician to see more patients in his/her work day, so there is less time to spend with each individual patient. With patient deductibles on the rise, much of your healthcare expense is coming out of your own pocket, making it more important than ever for you to choose a provider whose practice is in line with what’s important to you.
Due to all the changes in healthcare, many people are becoming aware of their ability to control their own healthcare, whether that be by choosing a provider that best fits their needs and personality, or choosing medical facilities that help keep their own healthcare costs down. When it comes to healthcare, you do have a choice.
Dr. Dennis Yap is a family practice doctor from Springfield.