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Nightmare doctor stories -- we’ve all got them. I once had a doctor, whom I had just met, tell me I “have an amazing pelvis,” while elbow-deep in my nether regions. Another physician, during my first and last visit, offered to come over to my place to help me conduct my monthly breast exams.
So, it’s no shocker that a new Healthgrades survey found that 50 percent of Americans have felt like they made the wrong choice when choosing a doctor or hospital.
Even though most of those polled ranked picking a doctor second only to selecting a spouse, most of us spend more time researching our next big appliance purchase than the doctor who’s going to check us out or slice us open. According to the survey, 42 percent of Americans spend 10 or more hours researching a car, while 34 percent spend less than one hour finding a physician.
According to physician and medical expert Archelle Georgiou, M.D., most of us choose our medical care by convenience: Are they close to my home or office; how soon can I get an appointment? While these are important factors, Dr. Georgiou says we need to go one step further by evaluating the physician or facility for quality. While safety records aren’t available for doctors, Georgiou says the great equalizer in choosing a primary care physician (or any doctor) is whether or not they're board-certified. Anyone who graduates from medical school becomes and M.D., explains Georgiou. But to become board-certified, a doctor must spend several years after medical school getting supervised, in-practice training and pass an exam that verifies their competence.
The other thing we consistently forget to do is our homework in choosing the hospital for a procedure, says Georgiou. According to the Healthgrades report, a patient’s choice in hospitals strongly influences their odds of complications and even their very survival.
You can have the very best surgeon and still experience complications if the hospital isn’t well-staffed or organized. “So much of the procedure’s outcome has to do with the skills in the operating room," says Georgiou, but how well the staff takes care of you after surgery is just as important in preventing complications.
These complications, which largely determine a hospital’s death rate, can be due to medication errors; inattentive patient care; surgical errors or anesthesia problems; and infections due to poor hygiene practices. Georgiou recommends checking the mortality and readmission rates for the hospital where you plan to have your surgery. “So many individuals don’t realize they have a choice. Their insurance always covers more than one hospital, and doctors almost always have more than one hospital that they’re affiliated with.”
As for the time-honored practice of asking your friends if they have a doctor they’d recommend, Georgiou says that's a great starting point. Generally, those doctors have a good communication style, which is important, she says, “because the really good doctors are the ones who really listen to you.”
From there, you can check their quality of care on any of these sites listed on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ web site.