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How to choose a doctor that's right for you

We trust medical doctors with some of our most pressing and personal health care issues. We aren't afraid to be embarrassed in front of them and we go to them with problems we can't understand. If your doctor is retiring or you move out of town, the prospect of choosing a new doctor can be challenging.

To start, ask friends, neighbors or coworkers for recommendations. If they like their doctors, they will suggest you try visiting them as well. You can also check newspapers and community health department sites for lists of doctors who are accepting new patients.

Compose a list based on a few basic criteria, such as:

  • Clinics in close proximity to your home.
  • Doctors of a particular gender, if this is important for your comfort.
  • Practitioners with specialties related to your needs.
  • Recommendations from people you know.
  • Large or small clinics (if you are concerned about seeing the same doctor on every visit, opt for a smaller clinic).

Once you have narrowed down a list, pay a visit to your top three or four choices, making notes on the following:

  • Accessibility. If the office doesn't have much parking or the parking lot is awkward and you aren't a comfortable driver, this might cause inconvenience. If you use a wheelchair, you will know right away if a clinic has been designed around your needs or not. Similarly, the office should be easy to find and steps should be cleared in winter. If a clinic is close to a pharmacy, all the better!
  • Friendliness. Are you greeted warmly upon entering? Are you treated the same as a patient who has been visiting this doctor for 20 years? Will receptionists have time to deal with your questions about your health insurance plan[Health Insurance] and other inquiries?
  • Staff. Some people like the hustle and bustle of a busy clinic while others prefer a more personal setting. In many cases, offices have a doctor's advocate, somebody who assists the doctor like a nurse and who may be working toward becoming a doctor. This person may not be a permanent staff member, but he or she could see you as often as the doctor. If you are uncomfortable with some of the nurses or doctors' advocates, you may not be comfortable expressing yourself or opening up about health issues.
  • Waiting Room. Sometimes doctors get running behind schedule - it's a fact of the profession. In preparation for this inevitable fate, take a look around the waiting room to see what literature is provided and how clean it is. Try out the chairs to see how comfortable they are (but remember that doctors probably aren't splurging on recliners).
  • Services. What services are you looking for your doctor to provide? Many MDs charge for doctor's notes, so if this is something you foresee yourself needing, ask if there is a cost. If you know what you will likely need from your doctor, it can be helpful to ask how he or she deals with those issues and services. Perhaps your doctor offers online consultations via video conference – if this is a service you will use, it might mean choosing one doctor over another.
  • Specialties. If you are looking for a family doctor but have special needs, is there someone your doctor can recommend? It can be nice to know that your family doctor has a relationship with different specialists; a recommendation from a fellow doctor is a strong one.
  • Doctor's Personality. This is the most important criterion when selecting a doctor. If your personalities don't mesh or you don't feel you can trust the doctor after your meet-and-greet, then this is not the doctor for you.
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