First, you need to ask yourself what you prefer. Second, you need to learn how to assess the ability of your health care professional.
Before choosing a health care professional, some people ask friends for recommendations, check the physician's credentials, or call the local hospital for a referral. In this age of managed care, you also need to check the list of doctors who will accept your insurance provider. None of these methods are foolproof in identifying a qualified professional with whom you feel comfortable to share your innermost feelings and concerns about your back and neck problems.
Perhaps one of the most important steps to take when selecting a physician to diagnose and treat a spinal problem is to know yourself, including your personal likes and dislikes. As you choose a physician, consider these 20 questions. Some of the questions pertain to your initial selection of a physician. Others are to consider after you've seen this physician several times to help you make sure that you have chosen the right doctor for you.
Choosing a Physician: 20 Questions
- Would you feel more comfortable with a man or woman?
- Should the physician be older than you, the same age, or younger?
- Do you have a preference about educational background?
- Is the doctor board certified, that is, has the doctor passed a standard exam given by the governing board in his or her specialty?
- Where did the doctor go to medical school? Your local medical society can provide this information or look online at www.docboard.org/docfinder.html.
- Is the doctor involved in any academic pursuits, such as teaching, writing, or research? A doctor who teaches, writes, or conducts research may be more up to date in the latest developments in the field.
- Where does the doctor have hospital privileges, and where are those hospitals located? Some doctors may not admit patients to certain hospitals, and this can be an important consideration for older adults with health problems.
- Does the doctor accept your health insurance, or is the doctor a member of the medical panel associated with your HMO?
- Is the doctor's staff friendly and reassuring? Do they smile and make you feel valued? Chances are that the staff reflects the personality of the physician.
- What are the doctor's office hours? Are these hours convenient for you or the person who is transporting you?
- During the initial visit, does the doctor conduct a thorough review of your medical history, including medications, past surgery, lifestyle habits, and family history?
- Does the doctor look at you when greeting you, as though you are a person of value?
- How much time does the doctor spend on follow-up visits?
- Does the doctor examine you thoroughly and perform a complete spine exam?
- Does the doctor order tests readily, or does she or he tend to minimize your concerns?
- Is the doctor ready to give you a prescription without explaining more about the side effects?
- Does the doctor return your phone calls?
- Does the doctor make you feel that your health comes above all else? Alternatively, do you fear that your health care plan dictates the quality of care that you receive?
- If you need hospitalization, will this doctor still treat you, or will you be delegated to a specialist at the hospital who knows nothing about you as a person? You must ask your doctor this question.
- Does the doctor use specialists to assist in your situation if you request one? (Sometimes health plans discourage physicians from referring to other specialists, or the physician may have bad rapport with other specialists. Both are warning signs to find a new physician or get a new health plan.)
When you are seeing a specialist, make sure that you bring all your studies-MRI, CT-and laboratory data. When the history and physical exam are over, ask the doctor to identify exactly what structure he or she believes is causing your pain. If the doctor cannot do this, it is a red flag.