October is open enrollment for many people looking for healthcare. That means selecting a health plan and a doctor if your health insurance is changing. It’s frustrating to be forced to start from scratch again. You may have already bonded with your current doctor who knows your health and history well.
So how do you start over? There is seemingly an endless sea of doctors to choose from—how can you make the very best choice? Selecting a physician is a very personal process. There are numerous reasons why you may or may not connect with a doctor. The relationship is really like many other relationships, and it requires great trust. Let’s talk about some of the things you may want to consider when selecting a physician.
5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Doctor
- Search the medical group’s website
- Consider the gender of your physician
- Avoid internet ratings
- Language considerations
- Never judge a book by its cover
When you first join a health plan, they may send you a list of doctors within their network. If not mailed or electronically sent to you upon joining, you can use their website (doctor lists are often easily searchable there) or call them to mail you a copy of their provider booklet.
The most important fact is you need to understand the existence of The HITECH Act signed into law to encourage the use of technology with health information and records and to allow penalties to be given for non-compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).
If you want to save on costs, I’d start here with an in-network physician. Some plans will allow you to still see your out-of-network doctor, but at a higher cost. If you have an HMO, however, they most likely will not provide that option. If you’re confused about the differences between PPO’s, EPO’s, and HMO’s, you’re not the only one—make sure to learn how to choose between the three types of health plans.
While perusing your in-network provider list, consider the following:
Search the medical group’s website
The benefit of online lists is that some plans will list their physician profiles in more detail. For instance, mine will reveal that I love sci-fi movies, have an extra focus on women’s health and pediatrics, and host a medical podcast. Some physicians will even have a video snippet on their profile to view, their credentials may be listed in detail, etc. In this way, you can best find a physician that matches your interests. A connection is always helpful in making you feel more comfortable at the doctor’s office.
Do you prefer a female or male physician?
This will narrow down your search by about 50%. Female patients often search for female doctors, and many of my patients will tell me this. Perhaps they feel more of a connection with a female physician, or perhaps they’d neglect their pap smear otherwise. Or perhaps they grew up with six brothers, and have a better connection with a male physician.
On the other hand, I’ve also had male patients reveal that they feel most comfortable with females, and male patients who tell me they don’t feel as comfortable with a female physician when discussing their most personal topics, such as erectile dysfunction or low libido.
The truth is, however, almost all of us doctors have patients from all spectrums. And there’s nothing we haven’t heard before. No medical topic makes the physician feel uncomfortable. But how you feel as a patient is the key. So if this makes a difference in how comfortable you feel at the doctor’s office, then it may be a consideration.
Avoid internet ratings
Honestly, my personal opinion is that doctors should never have a yelp profile or other online health grades. Anyone can go online and rate, and even remain anonymous. That means even personal contacts of the doctors, their dismayed colleagues, and disgruntled patients.
But providing medical care is a complex issue. Sometimes the patients may not feel satisfied despite the physician’s best intentions. A great example is a patient with a history of addiction who may have been denied a medication that the physician felt was not in their best interest. Or perhaps a patient who “doesn’t like to go to the doctor” (which is not uncommon) who is seen after 10 years and upset by the doctor’s attempts to ensure their preventative screenings are met (mammograms, colonoscopies, vaccines, etc.)—they just want to be left alone. Personality mismatches can happen, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that either party did something wrong.
On the other hand, friends and family members can get online and inflate the ratings in favor of the physician, too.
If you read them, please take these ratings with a grain of salt.
A better way to gauge how you may connect with a physician is to ask around. Is there a family member or neighbor whose opinion you trust? Who is their doctor? The odds of making a connection with a doctor is higher if someone you know has a positive personal experience to share.
If you read them, please take internet ratings with a grain of salt.
It’s no secret that my name is not an easy one to say. But I obviously speak English and have excellent communication skills. Try not to make assumptions about language disparities. I’ve had patients reveal that they weren’t quite certain if I spoke English well enough before they met me, and were hoping that I spoke well enough to communicate. That one makes me cringe a little.
But, if you yourself feel more comfortable speaking in another language, then by all means select a physician that is fluent in that language. Most health plan lists will include that information. If they don’t, ask for it.
Never judge a book by its cover
When I meet a patient for the first time, can you guess what question I get asked the most? “How old are you?”—in various forms, of course; it may be a statement such as, “Wow, you look so young.” Assuming the age of a person is always dangerous territory, and I know this because of experience seeing so many patients. I’ve had 90-year-olds appear in their 60s, and 30-year-olds appear with a physiologic age in their 50s.
As for myself, unfortunately I get asked these questions less and less through time. They may have bothered me a tad when I first started, but now I actually enjoy it and take it as a compliment. But other doctors may not. And the truth is, does it really matter? But I’ll tell you this, it would surprise you how savvy some young physicians are when they first leave residency. And they are often very up-to-date.
My advice, don’t focus on age or make assumptions that the doctor is incapable based on it. Most medical groups, especially larger ones, have very strict criteria when employing physicians. They’ve often already done the work for you. If it’s a reputable medical group, then you can be almost sure that the physician is capable.
My answer, by the way? “I’ve completed an extra 11 years of school and training after high school, and have now been practicing medicine for 13 years.”
Unfortunately for me, everyone can now do the math. Let’s keep it between us, please.
Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.