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October 22, 2008 > Do Your Homework Before Choosing a Doctor

Do Your Homework Before Choosing a Doctor

For many people, the fall season is also open enrollment season when their employers allow them to check over and choose their health care insurance coverage for the coming year. But before you decide on a health care plan, you should make sure you have a personal physician who meets your needs. Then check your health plan options to determine if your physician is included.

"It is important for patients to take an active role in their own medical care, and the first step is to choose the right physician," says Washington Hospital Chief of Medical Affairs Albert Brooks, M.D. "Whether you're looking for a primary care physician or a specialist, it pays to do as much research as you can to ensure that you find a good match for your needs."

One good place to start searching for a physician is to ask your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors for their recommendations. But your research shouldn't stop there.

"If you already have a primary care physician and are looking for a specialist, check with your primary care doctor to see if he or she can provide you with access to other specialists and find out who your doctor would recommend," says Dr. Brooks. "Conversely, if you only have a specialist, you should ask the specialist who he or she would recommend for a primary care physician."

The founder and President of Washington Township Medical Group (which serves the patient community also served by Washington Hospital), Dr. Brooks offers a variety of suggestions for evaluating physicians' qualifications:

"Ask potential doctors about their educational background and training, as well as whether or not they are board certified in their area of specialty," he says. "Find out which hospitals they admit patients to and what insurance they accept. Discuss how long you will have to wait for an appointment - some doctors keep part of each day's schedule open so they can offer some same-day appointments for urgent issues. You also could ask whether they keep computer-based electronic medical records, which can improve the quality and efficiency of medical care."

Other factors to consider when selecting a physician include:
* Do you want a physician whose office is close to your home or your place of work?
* Do you need to find a physician whose office is easily accessible, with nearby public transportation and/or ample parking?
* Do you need a physician who speaks your language fluently or has staff members who do?
* Do you have a preference for either a male or a female physician?
* Who covers for your physician when he or she is unavailable or on vacation?
* If you have a complicated medical condition, does the physician treat other patients with similar conditions?

Once you have narrowed down your search, call the physicians' offices and ask if you can make an "interview" appointment or a preliminary consultation to speak with the doctors about your concerns. You may have to pay a co-payment or other fee for this service, but it could help make you more comfortable with your decision.

"Meeting the physician is the best way to determine whether or not the two of you are compatible," Dr. Brooks explains. "Does the doctor listen to your questions and respond with answers that make sense to you? When you visit the doctor's office, does it appear to be well-run as well as provide a clean and comfortable environment? Does the office staff provide friendly, courteous treatment to patients? Don't be afraid to ask questions. After all, you are entrusting your health to this physician."

If you need help finding a physician, please visit the Washington Hospital Web site at
and click on the link for "Find a Physician," or call Washington Hospital's Health Connection line (800) 963-7070. If you would like more information about Washington Township Medical Group, please visit their Web site at

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