Thursday, August 30, 2007

Finding A Patient Friendly Physician

How many people have experienced this scenario or one similar to this?

You have just enrolled in an employer sponsored HMO medical plan. Your preferred primary care physician does not accept the new insurance, so you are forced to choose a new primary care physician. You pick a doctor at random from a list of physicians in your area. Once your coverage begins, you decide to make an appointment, because you have been having frequent headaches. You find out that there is a two-month wait for an appointment, so you make an appointment, because the headaches are getting worse.

After you wait the two months, you finally get to visit your new doctor. You arrive 30 minutes early as instructed, because being a new patient, you have paperwork to fill out. You then wait for an hour and fifteen minutes in the waiting room. Finally, your name is called by a nurse, who takes your vital signs. She then takes you into an exam room and tells you the doctor will be right in. After another 30 minutes of waiting in the exam room, the doctor finally comes in. He very quickly introduces himself and inquires about the reason for your visit. While you are explaining the reason for your visit, trying to give as much information as possible, he interrupts you before you are finished. He then states that you are experiencing stress related headaches, and he suggests that you reduce your stress levels, take an over the counter pain reliever as needed, and call to make a follow-up appointment in two months if the headaches are still occurring.

Before the doctor can leave the room, you try to explain that you have no additional stress at this time, and the over the counter medication is not covering the pain. The doctor discounts your explanation, and he repeats that he believes they are classic, stress related headaches. He then informs you that you can be under stress without even realizing it. The doctor refuses to prescribe a stronger pain reliever, but he does offer you an anti-depressant to “calm” your stress. You politely decline the anti-depressant, and you decide to go along with his first suggestion. Before you can ask any additional questions, the doctor thanks you and leaves the exam room. This entire visit lasted approximately five minutes, and you leave the office with the same treatment plan you had already been doing prior to the appointment.

Rather than take a wait and see approach, you decide that it might be quicker to change to another primary care physician through your insurance. Unfortunately, you now realize that you have a 50/50 chance of choosing a new physician that is just like the one you just saw. You really do not have any other option but to find a new physician, because you know that if your primary care physician is patient friendly, you are more likely to have your headaches addressed more thoroughly. You are also more likely to obtain a resolution for these headaches that have become such a disruption in your life.

This type of scenario occurs more often than it should. Imagine how much time is wasted, while you search for a new primary care physician who is patient friendly, and wait for that initial appointment. Depending on the circumstances, you might be looking at one to three more months until you are able to see the new primary care physician. In the interim, your symptoms continue to worsen and are affecting your quality of living.

Do you choose another primary care physician from a list of approved doctors at random? Or do you come up with a plan of action that might increase your odds of finding the right physician for your needs? I had to make this choice, and I came up with a plan.

The following are some of the methods that I have used to assist me when looking for a primary care physician or specialist. Although these methods are not a guarantee, I have found that putting them into practice does increase the odds in your favor.

Talk to friends and family - I have always believed that word of mouth is the best advertisement that money cannot buy. This was the first method that I put in to practice, and I found my first patient friendly physician. It only took one visit with the physician to realize that the reference I received from a friend led me to a physician that I was able to establish a strong doctor / patient relationship with. Not only was he an exceptional physician, but he was one of those rare physicians that gave you the amount of time necessary during your appointment, in order to deal with your medical issue. This physician never hesitated to order tests, and he never hesitated to refer me to a specialist. I remained with this physician until he retired from practice.

Talk to your current doctor – If you find yourself in a situation like I had, where your primary care physician is retiring, or will no longer be seeing patients for another reason, ask for advice on a replacement physician. My physician already had a replacement physician lined up. This was a benefit to me, because my retiring physician made sure that my new physician understood that I had a condition that was not yet diagnosed. On my first visit with my new primary care physician, he was already aware of who I was and had been advised of my medical history. This physician remains my primary care physician to this date. If your physician does not have his / her replacement lined up, ask whom he / she would recommend.

Look to the Internet – There are multiple free sites on the internet that will not only provide a list of physicians in your area, but many also include a rating for each physician. One such website is called “Find a Doctor”, and I will include a link to this site in the “Links” section. On this site, you can search for a primary care physician, specialist, or dentist. You can also see how other patients rate the physicians. Additionally, what I like about this site is that physicians list themselves on the site. They are reaching out to find new patients, which in my opinion, may indicate that they might have more time to deal with a patient’s issues, because they have not reached the point where they are continuously overbooked. Once you have selected a physician, you can then check to see if that physician accepts your insurance. Additionally, it is often wise to contact the physician’s office to make certain he / she is accepting new patients. If you have an HMO, you will need to contact them to let them know that you wish to change your primary care physician. Those with a PPO need only to make an appointment.

Look to Your Insurance Company – Most, if not all insurance companies, supply an online directory of covered physicians in their plans. Additionally, I know of at least one insurance company, that actually includes a rating system for physicians and hospitals.

Background Check – This is not as in depth as it may sound. I make it a practice to go to the California Medical Board’s website and look up any physician that I plan to see. The website will not only confirm that the physician you have selected is licensed to practice medicine, but it will also let you know if the physician has any disciplinary actions against him / her. I will include a link for this site in the “Links” Section.

Do a General Internet Search – Once you have selected a physician, perform an internet search using your favorite search engine. This is best done using the advanced search feature. Once the search is complete, the results might include medical articles published by the physician, information about professional associations, the physician’s website, etc. This type of information could be very relevant, especially if you are searching for a specialist who sub-specializes in a particular field of medicine, such as a Movement Disorder Specialist.

In my humble opinion, for those who are searching for a primary care physician, the best method to use is talking to friends and family. A primary care physician is a person with whom you are looking to establish a trusted relationship with. A reference from a patient, who already has that type of relationship with a physician, is a strong indicator that the physician is patient friendly.

When searching for a specialist, it does not seem as common to have a friend or family member who can provide a reference. If you are lucky enough to have a friend or family member who can provide a reference, that is still the preferred method. Otherwise, I have found that the best way to search is through the internet. Many specialists are not only listed on sites such as “Find a Doctor”, but many are also published and have professional affiliations, which can provide a wealth of knowledge with respect to their expertise. Unfortunately, expertise does not guarantee a physician will be patient friendly, so there is still a higher risk that a specialist may or may not be patient friendly.

For those people who have an HMO and are referred to a specialist by their primary care physician, I would still recommend finding out as much information as possible about the specialist. I have found that knowing as much as possible about a specialist, better prepares me for the appointment. Since I do not have control over which specialist I see, I feel more confident when I do at least know his / her background and expertise.

In a future post, I will address the subject of specialists a little more in depth. I will discuss why I chose to see specialists, outside of my insurance as a private pay patient, and the results of those visits. I will also address how I was able to see a Movement Disorder Specialist, using my insurance, because of the type of condition I have. Finally, the most important aspect I will address when trying to find the right specialist, is persistence. Being persistent, as well as firm about your expectations and requirements, are key factors in finding the primary care physician or specialist who you can build a trusting relationship with.


Anonymous said...

Dear Nicole, I was so pleased and impressed when I visited your blog this evening. The writing is clear and thorough. It is remarkable how much material you started with and how complete the information is on the topics of proper medical attention and navigating the process of diagnosis. You are off to a great start, and I want to encourage and support you in this effort. Your writing talents and background on the subject are both evident in your work. May I make a link on my blog to your site? Take care, Dan

Patient With A Plan said...

Thank you so much for the encouragement. As you know, this is something I have been thinking about doing for a while. After my Parkinsonism diagnosis, I set out to find out everything I could about PD-Plus conditions, which is how I found your blog. Sharing your personal story, along with the informative resources you have included in your blog, helped to inspire me to follow through with my blog. I would be honored to have you add a link to my site on your blog. In turn, I would like to add a link on my blog to your site. Thanks again.