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Making a Medical Match: Choosing the Right Doctor

Find the right medical provider for you when your body needs TLC. 

Choosing a doctor well-suited to your problems can be important. The first time I realized this was when I went to go see an orthopedic surgeon for a running injury. He was not an athlete, and although he correctly diagnosed my problem, he first told me that I might have to stop running altogether—for the rest of my life. I knew a fellow runner or athlete would have never suggested such a drastic change; I also knew he wasn’t the kind of doctor I ever wanted to go to again.

But faced with the long list of primary or specialty care providers from an insurance handbook it can be hard to tell who’s going to “get” you and your problems. Below are some questions to ask yourself when trying to find your medical match.

Are They in My Plan?
Maybe the most important step is to make sure the doctor you go to is in your insurance plan; if not, you could be paying a hefty out of pocket fee. If you have an HMO or PPO, check to make sure they’re in your network. This information is usually in your provider’s handbook and/or online.

What Do I Want from My Doctor?
If you have a special medical condition, you might want a doctor who has experience with that condition, or who can refer you to someone who does. If you are a woman, you may only need to see your doctor for annual exams, and might want to choose an obstetrician/gynecologist for your primary care provider. Make a checklist and try to match your requirements with a candidate. Some other things you might consider: a doctor that’s close to your work or home, can answer questions over email, has an affiliation with a certain hospital, speaks a certain language, has extended office hours, or offers complimentary medicine.

Are They Qualified?
The American Medical Association’s Physician Select database gives information on education and board certification for physicians nationwide. You should make sure your physician has the background necessary to treat your condition or is qualified to give you the resources you need. If your primary care physician is an internist or a family practitioner, you may want to be referred to a specialist for hard-to-treat or complicated conditions.

Do I Like Them?
Maybe you feel like it shouldn’t matter how much you get along with your doc, but feeling comfortable means you’re more likely to get the most out of your experience. It sucks to feel like you’re being rushed through an appointment, that your doctor isn’t listening to your problems, or that they don’t have the right information for you. Making a list of important questions that you want answered can be one solution to this (see, Making the Most of Your Doctor’s Visits) but it also may mean you need to look for someone you like better. Also, doctors shouldn’t be there to just treat your symptoms, they should also be trying to prevent disease. When you go in for an appointment, are they encouraging you to quit smoking and giving you resources to do so? Do they ask about diet and exercise, and offer to information to achieve a healthful lifestyle? If not, they should be.

Finally, it pays to ask around. A good way to choose a doctor is to ask for recommendations from friends, family, and coworkers as soon as you have to choose one. Rather than trying to rush to find a doc once you’re sick, establishing a rapport with a physician can help you get treated and get better quicker.

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