What’s the most important relationship in your life? When it comes to your overall health and well-being, your relationship with your doctor can be just as important as your connection to family and friends.
But with doctor shortages striking many areas of the country, and big changes in healthcare tied to Obamacare likely to add to those problems, millions of Americans are finding themselves looking for a new primary-care physician or medical specialist almost every year.
So what’s the best way to make a good choice? Stephanie Haridopolos, M.D., a board-certified family practitioner in Melbourne, Fla., tells Newsmax Health it’s not an easy decision and a bad selection can have serious consequences for your health. But there are a handful of things you can do to find a great doctor who best suits your needs, lifestyle, and health status.
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“A good patient-doctor relationship can help improve the quality of care by increasing the accountability of the provider and giving the physician a better understanding of the ‘big picture’ and how to help [you] improve: mind, body, and spirit,” says Dr. Haridopolos, president of the Brevard County Medical Society, tells Newsmax Health.
“It is increasingly difficult for patients to find doctors and to get appointments with primary care physicians like myself, and it is likely to get worse, not better, as millions more gain health insurance under the [Patient Protection and] Affordable Care Act,” she adds.
“The medical field has long been fretting about an upcoming doctor shortage. The aging of baby boomers already worried medical planners before changes to health care took a front seat, especially because so many doctors themselves are boomers and they will be aging [and retiring] at the same time.”
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the nation is facing a serious shortfall of primary care doctors and will be 91,500 physicians short of what it needs by 2020. That deficit could hit 130,600 by 2025, in part because Obamacare will hike the number of insured Americans seeking care and many doctors are nearing retirement age, getting into concierge medicine, or leaving the profession.
Michael Murphy, M.D., co-founder and CED of the medical information outfit ScribeAmerica, tells Newsmax TV the doctor shortage is being driven by “the cumulative effect [of] the surmounting increase in regulations, decreased reimbursements, and cost of living that keeps going up.”
In addition, too few medical students are able to secure the 3- to 7-year residency training programs at the country's teaching hospitals, which are required for them to work in medicine after they finish medical school.
That’s because federal regulations and funding deficits for those residency programs have capped the number of med students who can participate. Medicare funds most residency training, providing $9.5 billion a year. But its support was capped by Congress in the Budget Control Act of 1997. Legislation is pending in both the House and Senate that would increase the number of residency slots, calling for about $9 billion in spending over 10 years, but they have languished in committee.
“President Obama is increasing the Medicare dollars to residency programs across the country to expand that,” Dr. Murphy says. “[But] that still by 2020 is falling short of the need that we will have, especially with the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of insurance — people are still having long wait times at their practice.”
In the face of these challenges, Dr. Haridopolos says it’s becoming increasingly important to make a good decision when choosing a new physician. She offers the following five recommendations:
No. 1: Personal References.
The best way to find a good doctor is ask family and friends whom they use and trust. “Try to avoid picking a doctor at random from your health plan’s list or out of the phone book,” she advises. “People who find their physicians through someone they trust — a friend, a family member, or another doctor — [have] the most favorable experiences.”
No. 2: Insurance Resources.
It’s a good idea to check your insurance policy for doctors and hospitals that are part of your network. “If you have health insurance, you may need to choose a doctor in their plan,” she notes. “Call your insurance company and ask for a list of local doctors who take your insurance plan. See if your insurance company has a Website you can use to search for a local doctor who accepts your plan and is affiliated with a hospital that your insurance covers.”
No. 3: Doctor Rating Services.
A number of online doctor-rating services are worth a look to see what other patients have said about them. “Consider also checking an online doctor-rating site, like vitals.com
or zocdoc.com,” she says.
No. 4: Licensing Checks.
You can also check a prospective doctor’s licensing, training, and background by visiting to your state health department’s Website, which provides patient and consumer resources. “Look for a doctor who is board-certified and affiliated with a reputable hospital,” Dr. Haridopolos advises.
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No. 5: Schedule an Interview.
Once you’ve identified a doctor you think might be a good fit for you, schedule a pre-exam interview to learn more about his or her style of medicine and see how you get along. “You can find out some key details about a prospective doctor just by calling him/her,” she notes. “Start with how you're greeted. If the receptionist treats you poorly, it may be a sign that the practice isn’t respectful of patients in general. When you are choosing a doctor, look for someone who treats you with respect; listens to your opinions and concerns; encourages you to ask questions; [and] explains things in ways you can understand.”
Dr. Haridopolos also recommends asking a series of key questions during a first meeting with a doctor. Among them:
- Is the doctor taking new patients?
- How long will it take to get an appointment?
- How long do appointments usually last?
- Is the doctor part of a group practice (and who are the other doctors)?
- Who will see you if the doctor isn’t available?
- Which hospital does the doctor use?
- Can you get lab work and X-rays done in the office?
- What is the office’s cancellation policy?
- If you have a medical condition, does the doctor have experience treating it?
- If you are more comfortable speaking to a doctor in a language besides English, is there a doctor or nurse who speaks that language?
- Does the doctor offer evening or weekend appointments?
- How long will you have to wait for an appointment?
- Does the doctor keep paper or electronic medical records?
- Does the doctor take questions by e-mail?
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