Do your homework when looking for a new doctor

You are in charge of your own healthcare. Equally important is research that reveals that most women are in charge of their family’s health as well. But you’re not alone – you need a physician partner for you and your family, and sometimes, it can be challenging to find the right one.

I always recommend doing your homework and researching the reputation of the physicians, surgeons and nurse practitioners who will be guiding and providing your healthcare. First, it’s important that your provider be board eligible or board certified. This means that he or she has met national benchmarks for education and knowledge. If your health problem needs a procedure, it’s OK to ask your surgeon how many specific procedures he or she has performed and whether it can be done with minimally invasive surgery.

Get referrals. Some patients receive healthcare provider recommendations from other physicians, family and friends. In addition, I recommend talking to people who work in healthcare. In other words, network.

Some patients obtain provider information on the web. But it’s important when turning to the Internet for information that people realize it’s not a perfect tool. Specifically, be careful with physician rating sites. Physician rating sites are becoming more prevalent online. Some sites are private companies, which base ratings on short patient surveys. Examples include, HealthGrades, RateMDs.com and Vitals.com.

A concern of patient-driven scores is the assumption that the more emotional patients are, the most likely they are to complete online surveys. If this is the case, the reviews tend to be either be very negative or very positive. This concern is intensified by the small number of responses per physician on many of the websites – not a large enough sample to be scientific. There’s also no way to verify that the individuals grading a given physician are his or her real patients.

Other physician rating sites are driven by insurance companies, such as United Heath Care or Aetna. The insurance companies will “grade” physicians, and a patient can search for a physician’s quality and efficiency – scored by a number of stars. However, sometimes it’s not clear how these two variables are measured. Other clinical grades may include the use of electronic medical records, hospital readmission rates, and complications.

As health care reform moves forward, it is anticipated that legislative sites will have standard metrics that are fair to both consumers and physicians.

In addition to doing your research and considering the source, my final hope is that you remember your voice and fill out hospital surveys that come from the government. Medicare distributes a survey called Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems, also termed “H-CAPS,” to a random sample of patients discharged from U.S. hospitals. Therefore, hospitals are paying very close attention to these reviews

In summary, do your homework, network, cautiously search the Internet, and use your voice. Be smart out there.

Vivian E. von Gruenigen is Chair, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Akron City and St. Thomas Hospitals. She blogs at flourish.

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  • buzzkillersmith

    It’s funny how we docs all live in different medical worlds. Here in the rolling wheat fields of southeast Washington, a patient’s main concern is to find a physician or nurse practitioner with a pulse. If you can do that, count yourself lucky. I am a family doc, and I and my kids have no family doctor! (My wife’s doc is still around.) My guy is moving, and no one in his practice is taking new patients, except for the nurse practitioners. I guess one of them will be my new doc. I might have to swallow hard and have the kids see a pediatricians instead of a family doc. Actually somewhat comical when you think about it.
    The local hospital administrator has made noises about trying to herd us all up into one big happy ACO, but of course he doesn’t have a lot of leverage in a physician shortage area. He’s actually a nice guy doing a tough job, although I do kinda enjoy seeing him stumble over his words at the quarterly meeting while the docs sit in stony silence.

    • http://twitter.com/DoctorViv Vivian von Gruenigen

      I agree that we live in different medical worlds across the country. Some similar. Some dissimilar. In Akron, we are a part of the growing ACO movement. It’s great that you are an advocate and engage your hospital adminstration. It’s better to be an active participant of healthcare reform.

  • leslie fay

    One small problem. Insurance. It doesn’t matter who you like if they are not on your insurance plan or they do not take medicare.

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