Need A New Doctor?
Health First Physicians offer practical advice on how to select the right doctor or specialist for your unique needs
When Debbie, a Florida mother of two children, discovered she needed complex ear surgery to improve her hearing, she faced a common dilemma. While she had a primary care physician and various specialists with whom she had already developed relationships, she did not know who to trust with such a delicate procedure.
The process of selecting a new doctor can often seem complicated and overwhelming. A simple Google search will suffice when shopping for a new camera or seeking reviews on the latest movie. Yet when it comes to the more important process of choosing a doctor, the process is often more difficult.
With over 100 doctors, Health First Physicians is one of the largest and most visited medical groups in Brevard County. Health First Physicians includes doctors across the medical spectrum ranging from family medicine to general surgery, from cardiology to pain management. These professionals are often asked by their patients for advice on selecting another doctor or specialist.
BECOMING AN INFORMED PATIENT
“One important piece of advice we can give is to be an informed patient,” says David Norris, M.D. an internist with Health First Physicians. “The more information you have about your own condition, the more empowered you are to ask the right questions when seeking a new doctor.” Being an informed patient not only helps you to pick the best doctor, but it also helps that doctor to pick the best treatment.
There are several websites that offer reliable, credible information on various medical conditions. It is important to ensure you are visiting reputable websites and reading information from credible sources. Experts warn that you should stay away from blogs and other public comment forums when seeking feedback on specific doctors. They tend to attract a small minority of patients who don’t represent a broad sample of opinions.
Being informed regarding your health is only part of the process, however. Many people remain unsure about how to choose a doctor with whom to share information on their health.
Personal referrals still remain the most common source of information when choosing a doctor, and research by Consumer Reports shows that people who found their physicians through someone they trust — a friend, family member or another doctor — had the most favorable experiences.
“There’s no substitute for personal experience and personal recommendation,” says Dr. Norris.
Once you believe you’ve found the right doctor, ask to schedule an introductory appointment. The relationship between patient and physician is unlike other client-professional relationships. You are entrusting your doctor with issues of health and sickness, and even life and death. You must feel comfortable talking with your physician and asking any questions you may have.
“I like to schedule a ‘get-established’ appointment with a new patient,” says Skyhawk Fadigan, M.D. a family practice doctor with Health First Physicians. “It’s a chance to find out whether doctor and patient will be a good match.” Dr. Fadigan says it is important to find out whether the doctor typically treats the health issue a patient may have, or if the doctor prefers to refer the problem to someone specializing in that particular condition. In addition, she says it’s important to ask whether the doctor commonly treats patients that are your general age, and — if seeking a family doctor — whether the physician will treat all members of the family. This also helps to determine whether patient and doctor will be compatible.
Make sure your doctor takes the time to explain everything to you in language you understand. You must feel comfortable communicating. This not only will put you more at ease, but it will also improve the flow of information your doctor will need to make the best diagnosis.
CAREFUL CONSIDERATIONS FOR THE BEST MATCH
Beyond the personal relationship, there are other factors to consider. Two critical factors include whether or not the doctor is covered by your insurance, as well as at what hospital(s) the doctor is affiliated with. You should also consider where the doctor’s office is located and if it is convenient for you to get there. Another consideration is the doctor’s office hours. If you have difficulty making appointments during weekdays, does the doctor have flexible hours?
Experts also point out that physicians may have different policies regarding when they see their patients, and how active a role they play in their patient’s overall care. Dr. Norris is one of the growing numbers of doctors who practice what is commonly called the “Medical Home” model. This model includes a general rule to see patients within 24 hours of their request for an appointment and a commitment to stay informed, and coordinate the patient’s care, even when it involves additional specialists.
Meanwhile, Dr. Fadigan suggests finding out whether a doctor will only see you if there is something wrong, or whether they are willing to see a patient when there is nothing specifically requiring immediate attention.
Don’t be afraid to ask for a doctor’s credentials. A physician should be willing to share their qualifications with a potential patient. If you are seeking a doctor in a specialized field, find out if that doctor is board certified in that specialty. If, like Debbie, you require a specific procedure, ask how many of those procedures your doctor has performed in the past. Do they represent a large percentage of their practice? It is also OK to ask the doctor how comfortable he or she is doing the procedure, or if they would recommend an alternative treatment. Often in medicine, there is no single correct answer or treatment. Many times, different doctors will recommend different treatments. While some may suggest surgery, others may believe surgery can be avoided.
Another factor is to take a look at the support network behind the physician. Is he or she a solo practitioner, or are they part of a larger group? Will someone else be available to see you if your doctor can not? One of the advantages of seeing a doctor that is part of a larger group such as Health First Physicians is the multiple layers of support and backup available to patients.
The Space Coast area is fortunate to have a large number of world-class doctors who are able to provide an array of services and specialties. While it may seem at first glance to be a difficult process choosing a physician that may be right for you, there are some basic steps you can take to ensure the best match between patient and doctor. The general consensus is that the better the match, the better the care and in most cases, the better the result.