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Finding a primary care physician is an important task. Your primary care physician is important not only because of the care he/she will deliver, but because he/she will become the quarterback of your health team, guiding you to other physicians and health care resources. Picking a name from a plan directory or the phone book is not the way to make this critical decision.
So how can you be sure that you’re getting the best physician for you?
One method is to ask friends and families for recommendations (though, remember, that is just the beginning of the process, not the end). Another good beginning point, especially if you are new to an area and do not have a network of friends in the community, is to identify a hospital with an excellent reputation and visit its Web site or call its physician referral line to get the names of some physicians with privileges there. Hospital appointment is an important factor in choosing a physician not just because the best hospitals attract the best doctors, but if you have a specific and known health issue—for example, a family history of heart disease—you may want to identify a hospital with particular strength in that area (e.g., a cardiothoracic surgery program) then find a doctor affiliated with that hospital.
Once you have names of physicians to consider, use these simple steps to narrow the list:
- Check the doctor’s credentials at a site like the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS.org) or Vitals.com. Is he or she board-certified? This is essential. Then check the doctor’s disciplinary record. All states should have this data online; it’s usually available through the state health department. Also, check to see if you can also find out about the doctor’s malpractice history. (This information is available in a few states).
- Check to see if the hospital where your doctor practices is a good one. Make sure it’s accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, an independent, not-for-profit organization. (You can look up the hospital here.)
- Interview your doctor. Do you share a common view of the doctor/patient relationship? What are his or her views on alternative and complementary approaches? Does the physician convey an interest in you and your health? Is this a person you feel you can respect and trust?
- Finally, if you have a medical condition, or anticipate one, be sure to discuss the doctor’s experience in treating it.
- Castle Connolly’s Web site offers quick links to all 50 states and the District of Columbia via its Doctor Disciplinary Information Search tool.
Find a quality physician who’s right for you and you can establish a relationship that can last for years to come.
John J. Connolly is president and CEO of Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. and former president of New York Medical College