Selecting the right doctor for you or your family is one of the most important decisions you'll ever have to make—a choice that at some point may, quite literally, mean the difference between life and death. But finding a knowledgeable physician with years of experience in his or her field is only part of the process; a potential patient also seeks to forge a strong relationship with a sensitive, attentive doctor they're comfortable with and can relate to on a personal level.
"Finding someone you can connect with personally is pretty basic," says Fishkill's Dr. Anthony D'Ambrosio, MD, of the Health Quest physicians' network. "After all, if you don't like the doctor you have you're less likely to follow his or her advice." Research is crucial in choosing a compatible doctor, so whenever feasible a patient should take the time to learn about and speak with more than one possible physician, whether they're looking for a general practitioner or a specialist. "It's a good idea to check to make sure a potential doctor is board certified," says Dr. D'Ambrosio. "This means that he or she is being periodically retested to show that their license and skills are up to date."
While choosing a doctor who accepts your health insurance as payment is likely paramount for you, don't rely solely on your provider's list or pick a physician randomly from the Internet or phone book. Instead, get a personal referral from a family member, friend, or, especially when you're in need of a specialist, another doctor. The endorsement of a physician from someone you already trust can go a long way in setting the tone for a fruitful doctor-patient rapport. And, ideally, you should be working with a family or primary care practitioner before adding any specialists to your health-assistance team.
"By way of our training, primary care and family doctors are comprehensively prepared; we learn about treating patients of all ages and about dealing with all kinds of diseases and conditions," explains Dr. Randall Rissman, MD, of Maverick Family Health in Woodstock, who echoes Dr. D'Ambrosio's sentiments about the significance of patient-doctor interaction. "I've been practicing for 33 years, and if there's one thing I've learned it's that it's most important that your doctor knows you as a person, and listens to you with respect and dignity while not being afraid to give advice and be a 'health educator.' Family doctors are 'patient advocates,' in that part of our work is to help people navigate the health-care system itself—which can be a very confusing and daunting thing for many patients."
Of course, there are other factors that come into play when picking the doctor that's right for you. In addition to finding one who participates in their health insurance plan and has been recommended by a friend, relative, or other doctor, location is a key consideration. Having a doctor whose office is close to where you live will end up saving you considerably on fuel expenses, and, in the case of an emergency, could help save your life.
Another concern is whether or not the doctor you're considering is aligned with a larger health network, such as HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley or Health Quest. "If you have multiple health issues and need to see more than one doctor, it makes sense to have a primary doctor who's tied into a bigger network, like what Health Quest does with the doctors listed in its Hometown Health directory," says Dr. Arthur Chandler, MD, an internist, family practitioner, and emergency physician with offices in Hudson. "In that way, you have one centrally accessible health record and one organization you're working within."
Additionally, when it comes to picking a suitable practitioner there are some helpful online resources available. Websites like Vitals.com, RateMDs.com, Healthgrades.com, and Angieslist.com offer useful facts about individual doctors that include their office locations, business hours, languages spoken, board certification, and information on their medical training backgrounds. (Several such sites allow users to rate each doctor and to post comments on their experiences with them.) In 2011 Medicare.gov, the official site of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, launched Physician Compare, a page dispensing biographical details about doctors who accept Medicare.
But, it should be stressed, websites like these are merely pieces of the larger health-care pie. Word-of-mouth endorsements from friends or loved ones, physician-to-physician referrals, and health-network recommendations still make up the preferred path to pairing the right doctor with the right patient.