The relationship between a patient and physician is a sacred one. It requires a tremendous amount of trust. We meet our doctors when we are sick and vulnerable. There is a social expectation that we are to turn over our bodies to a complete stranger. We barely understand their language and we need to communicate our ailments. The time and attention we often need is usually far less than we are allotted.
It is no surprise to most that there is a crisis in the health care system. “Managed care” is an oxymoron. Physicians are forced to see more patients, thus having less available time with each individual. Insurance sometimes ties the hands of physicians, regulating diagnostic tests, procedures, medications, and number of allowable office visits.
As someone who has been both patient and health care professional, I am able to see both sides of the situation. Patients and physicians are frustrated by the inadequacy of the system. The following are some guidelines to help you look for a new physician:
Get a referral. If you are currently satisfied with one or more of your health care practitioners but need to find a provider in another field, ask for a referral. You can also ask family, friends, and co-workers for suggestions.
Make an appointment and gather information. After you have collected names, you will need to call the office and inquire if s/he is accepting new patients. Also ask if your insurance covers the services of that provider. Verify billing practices in order to avoid any last minute unwelcome financial misunderstandings. You may also want to find out how soon you can get an appointment. Many people are shocked to learn that new appointments are booked months in advance. If that is the case and you want to be seen earlier, ask if the office maintains a waiting list. Last minute cancellations are common. Also, if your medical condition is truly urgent, you can sometimes ask your referring physician to call and attempt to find an earlier appointment. Some offices reserve time for medical emergencies.
Request enough time. If your situation is complicated, tell the receptionist. A 15-minute appointment is not the place to bring a long list of complaints. You and the doctor will feel hurried and you may start to lose the doctor’s attention if s/he is concerned about being late for the next patient.
Now you have an appointment, then the next step is to use that time to begin building a relationship. Next week I’ll suggest ways you can maximize your time during your medical appointment.