Finding the perfect physician is a lot like dating.
There are a lot of doctors out there, but with a little effort and patience, it is possible to find “Dr. Right.”
According to Dr. Michael Reis, chief medical officer for Baylor Scott & White Central Regional Clinics, a lasting doctor-patient relationship is built on trust.
“An ideal primary-care physician is one the patient feels comfortable talking to,” Reis said. “You’re building a long-term relationship so look for someone who could be your friend. It’s all about trust — and that trust must run both ways.”
A primary-care doctor is a person’s first stop when sick or in need of health-related services such as physicals, immunizations and prescription refills. The physician also keeps you up to date on preventative servings such as colorectal screenings and mammograms, Reis said.
“They are there to advise you, educate you, examine you, treat you and help you make important decisions regarding your health and well-being,” he said. “That’s especially true when it comes to chronic conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.”
So, how do you pick such an important partner by looking at a long list of names on websites and in health directories? Take your time and do your homework.
“Ask friends and family if they are happy with their doctors,” Reis said. “Word of mouth is a great way to find a primary (doctor). Talk to friends with similar needs and see if they are happy with their doctor.”
Reis recommends making an appointment with a prospective physician before picking your primary.
Perhaps the most important thing to check for is the doctor’s compatibility with your insurance plan. In other words, will your insurance pay for all or most of your routine visits. Out-of-network visits can be very expensive.
“There are a lot of things to look for,” Reis said. “First, is the location convenient and do they offer extended hours? That’s important, especially if you work. An office that is open past 5 (p.m.) and on Saturday’s might be a better fit.”
Also, Reis said, check the convenience of scheduling.
“Do they take walk-ins? Do they allow video visits in addition to face-to-face appointments? These things are important,” he said.
“Video visits can save a lot of time, and they are fine for many things such as discussing prescription changes or scheduling procedures.”
During an initial visit, pay close attention to how you are treated. Is the facility clean? Is the staff friendly? How do they treat others waiting to see the doctor?
“These things are important,” Reis said. “You need to be treated special.”
Reis said communication is key to a strong doctor-patient relationship.
“Make sure the physician fully listens to your concerns and doesn’t cut you off,” he said. “Make sure he explains things in terms you understand. And, make sure you have a means of communication other than face-to-face appointments.”
Many clinics and hospitals have phone and computer apps that allow patients to contact their health-care team. Baylor Scott & White, for example, uses MyChart.
MyChart allows patients access to test results, past and future appointments, a list of their medications and a messaging system. The app also allows patients to easily make or change appointments.
Dr. Reis urges patients or prospective patients to review their physician’s qualifications.
“You want to know if they hold a board certification,” he said.
He pointed out that once a medical student graduates and does an internship, they can take an exam and become a general practitioner.
“There’s a lot more medicine to be learned,” Reis said. “A good primary is trained in many types of medicine.”
Depending on their desired specialty, at least two additional years of residency are required. Then, the person must pass an extensive exam to become board certified.
“It doesn’t stop there,” Reis said. “Doctors must complete online courses every quarter to maintain their certification. A board certification is the medical version of the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.”
Choosing a primary-care physician doesn’t have to be a life-time decision.
“Remember, you’re not marrying the doctor,” he said. “If you feel the doctor isn’t meeting your needs, look for one who does.”