Getting the Best Possible Health Care by Christine Stapleford

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There are many things to consider when looking for a health-care professional to meet your needs. Choosing the appropriate health care professional is a highly personal decision. Whether it be a general practitioner, specialist, or a treatment center worker, the person will be caring for you or someone you love. There are many aspects, therefore, that need to be thoroughly investigated and thought through before the most appropriate decisions for your circumstances are made.
 

Perhaps one of the easiest aspects to learn about is the reputation of the doctor you are considering. Word of mouth through friends, family, or other doctors with whom you are in contact may provide important clues as to the doctor’s character, standing in his or her field, and competency. This assessment should also be broad enough to include consideration of the hospital with which the doctor is affiliated. Because the affiliated hospital would likely be the one that you would be attending under that doctor’s care, it is helpful to examine the hospital’s policies and procedures to see if they will meet your needs. For example, if visiting hours are strictly adhered to and end at 7:00 p.m., and you cannot get there from work in time to visit your child, then this is an important issue to address.

When choosing a doctor, it is also important to assess your unique needs. If you have no specialized requirements, then perhaps a general practitioner would be sufficient. However, if you have a tethered cord, then your general practitioner could provide you with a referral to see a neurosurgeon who is familiar with such matters. In this situation, if you have already researched which neurosurgeon might be right for you, then you could ask your doctor if he or she could provide a direct referral to that doctor.

For new parents of children with unique needs, the various specialists are often automatically assigned to the child. It is important for the parents at this point to be aware of which specialist their child is seeing and make an assessment as to whether each specialist is right for them and their child. Seeing the relevant doctor to begin with can help eliminate unnecessary steps and free up time that could be better spent addressing your concerns.

When an individual with unique physical needs is choosing a doctor, he or she should investigate the amount of medical knowledge the doctor has in regard to these specific needs. Although most doctors have probably heard of spina bifida, for example, they may not necessarily have great insight into this condition. To see how much they do know, talk to them about spina bifida. Ask them how many people with spina bifida they have treated - past and present.

A doctor who uses a common-sense approach and sees the individual as a normal person with special needs may be the best choice. This type of doctor, upon examining a person with hydrocephalus, who demonstrates symptoms of headaches and nausea, would consider all the possible causes (i.e.: the flu versus a shunt malfunction) and avenues before he or she makes a treatment decision.

One of the most important considerations to examine is the doctor’s ability to communicate on a number of different levels. Although it appears to be a basic concept, this is perhaps one of the most difficult things to achieve.

Good communication is bi-directional. Not only should an individual feel that what he or she is saying is an important addition to the doctor’s thoughts, but the doctor should be able to communicate effectively with his or her patient. Communicating effectively includes being able to talk with an individual, not at an individual. At whatever level that person feels most comfortable communicating, the doctor should take that into consideration and be able to alter his or her approach accordingly. If you do not feel this way with your doctor, then perhaps addressing the issue with him or her, or finding another doctor, might be what is needed. When a person feels that his or her needs (both physical and emotional) are being taken seriously, there is a more generalized feeling of security and faith in the doctor.

Furthermore, communication does not only include conversing, but also listening. You and your doctor must be able to listen to each other’s comments and suggestions and work collaboratively on a constructive health-care plan. This will not happen as naturally if you feel you cannot talk freely or your opinions and feelings are not being valued.

Although it is often assumed, communication (both written and verbal) between the various doctors and specialists that you or your child are seeing needs to be established. If there are special needs involved, this type of contact becomes even more imperative. Coordination between the various specialists and doctors who are involved in the treatment will most often lead to the natural conclusion of organized, supportive, and consistent health care.

It is also important that your group of doctors and specialists have a facilitator who will manage and direct your health-care plan over a long-term basis. This case manager would have an overall perspective of you and your medical needs, and would take on the responsibility of informing all other doctors and specialists involved in your care of any new developments. Using the example of a child, if the case manager is a pediatrician, then it is important for this doctor to keep your family physician completely up to date. Consequently, when your child comes of age, there will be another fully informed doctor ready to take over your child’s medical care.

Consideration of personality factors also fits into this concept of communication. Everyone has different personalities, and it is erroneous to believe that every doctor (by nature of his or her profession) should automatically get along with every patient he or she encounters, or vice versa. Thus, it is important to get a feel for your doctor to see if his or her personality or type of thinking fits with yours. On a deeper level, his or her values and beliefs will determine largely his or her bedside manner. How a doctor treats you on a personal level is influenced by how he or she feels about you and your unique needs. For example, if a doctor holds the belief that people who are disabled are asexual, or should not risk having children, then it would be very difficult to have a conversation about choosing appropriate birth control with that doctor. A general feeling of positive regard and optimism between doctor and consumer will make appointments more pleasant and successful for all involved.

Another consideration that should be addressed when searching for a doctor is his or her level of accessibility. Accessibility includes a number of different factors. It might be helpful if the doctor you choose is reasonably close to where you live or work. The doctor’s office (and applicable office equipment) should accommodate your physical needs. For example, if you have a wheelchair, and your doctor’s office is not fully wheelchair accessible, then perhaps another doctor should be considered. Accessibility also means whether or not you have access to the doctor in person. Does the doctor come to the telephone when you call or return your call within a reasonable amount of time? Do you actually see your doctor when you have an appointment with him or her, or do you most often end up having your appointment with his or her medical students? These are all important issues of accessibility that you need to consider when choosing a doctor.

There are many other factors that you may consider important when choosing a doctor. Such issues could include, whether is male or female, his or her religion, etc. It is all a matter of what you feel comfortable with, and what you consider to be important criteria for your doctor. If your unique needs are being met, you are more apt to be satisfied with your medical care and have more confidence in the doctor who is treating you. Choosing a doctor means entering into a relationship with someone, often where critical decisions are being made. It is easier to make these decisions when you are a part of a team working for your own health care.

Choosing a doctor is an ongoing and often lengthy process. Your needs are constantly changing, and therefore your doctor’s suitability should be continually assessed. If at any point your needs are not being met, it is important to discuss your feelings with your doctor. It is also crucial to know that you have options - do not feel that you have to continue seeing a particular doctor. Thrust yourself and your feelings.

As you begin to get a clear picture of what you are looking for in a health-care professional, making decisions will get easier. Don’t wait until there is a pressing medical issue to find the most appropriate doctor for you.

There are five main points to consider when looking for the best doctor for you: communication, reputation, accessibility, disposition, and specialty. When all of these aspects are taken into consideration, there is a better chance of finding a doctor that fulfills your needs and wants, thereby making you and your doctor(s) partners in your health care.