How to Choose the RIGHT DOCTOR: (Patient Advocacy Series)

By: Elzbieta Sanzal / Carmen Regallo-Dewitt (awarenessforacure.org editor)

From the moment your physician calls you about a debilitating illness,  that inner voice may express curiosity about what other treatment options another doctor would prescribe?  You may want to get another perspective on your current diagnosis or get another set of professional eyes to review your reports.  All these concerns are quite natural and common - especially when it comes to pursuing such a major commitment as cancer care.  We all want to gather all the information we can from trusted sources to build an intelligent direction that gives us complete confidence.  That’s what a SECOND OPINION offers.

To seek a SECOND OPINION is a patient's right as a cautious and educated consumer. This measure is also a smart financial coverage encouraged by insurance companies geared to prevent much higher claims from costly or 'wrongful' procedures.  Whether you're searching for a primary care physician or a specialist, shopping for any doctor can be quite a challenge. Ingredients for finding a professional that you can trust with your life rely heaviest on their reputation, expertise and qualifications found under smart research methods.

REFERRALS: Though medical professionals are now participating in the commercial world of marketing (such as broadcast and podcast commercials, youtube videos, social media promotion and public relations campaigns), the largest and most popular method of deciding on a doctor is still word of mouth. At least starting with a recommendation from a friend, colleague or family member, getting positive feedback about a practitioner through others' experience is a great place to begin.

RESEARCH: Once you have a name (or several names to choose from), the next answer is conducting online searches. With more than a decade of evolution, the internet provides a wide expanse of research options of about any professional. From patient reviews, local directories, educational contributions, social media connections and background checks, the web helps with so many ways to check out any professional for any success as well as not-so-good-news about them.

Meanwhile, as you proceed with your online research, employ 'smart searching' by knowing where to look and what to look for. Do not make quick judgments about an individual based on a sexy looking website. There are many doctors out there that have little marketing sense that pay more attention (as they should) in working with their patients than working with a fancy graphic design firm. On the other hand, doctors' websites may come with video testimonials, news coverage, educational backgrounds and a list of their partners- all information that help describe the strength of their capabilities. All doctors carry a varied set of strong points academically and professionally and it's up to you to find the clues you need to make that choice.

Narrowing down your candidates also means being organized. Have a folder and notes on significant information gathered online and/or from others. Save links that show vital information from reputable websites that you can return to for comparative reviewing. In the end, sizing up a doctor is all about the collected facts about them that you choose to dictate your decision.

E-REVIEWS: Affirming our freedom of speech is the internet's best function. Reviews, ratings and consumer reviews are aplenty - allowing you an inside look at a doctor's performance but discern with caution when finding either a "sugary" five-star comment or a demoralizing bad opinion in YELP (or the various popular review websites). Over time, you'll find many nay-sayers freely and maliciously bashing a professional for something completely unrealistic like "They had me sitting in the waiting room for 25 minutes without anything to read - so unprofessional!" In other words, discern the SOURCE of the review and conduct a fair amount of research instead of taking the first available opinion.

MEET AND GREET: Doctors come with their own personalities that may or may not match yours. During the first consultation, you may get the best clues as to whether or not this particular doctor is for you. Just as with any other relationship-based professional, follow your instincts during the inquiry of your ailments. You can usually tell if they're rushing to get 'done with you' or if they truly care about exploring your issues through genuine concern for problem-solving. Select a doctor who shows true interest in recommending current techniques, applications and solutions and one who is open to remedies outside of the pharmaceutical box. Know that the healthcare field is a complex field of information that is constantly growing and requires continued education to provide the most current care.

YOUR COMFORT LEVEL: Intuition is your inner voice telling you what's right for you. Your comfort level can be driven by a host of logical and illogical factors varying from the doctor's gender, their location, the design style of their office, their bedside manner or something as silly as their hairstyle. We may not always be able to identify what it is about a doctor that you are either drawn to or may have some apprehension about but at the end of the day, it's how you feel about that practitioner.

The ultimate answer to matching with the "right" doctor is truly based on a per-patient case. Where recommendations may fail, follow your gut, research as much as you can and remember, if you're in doubt or have concerns, NEVER SETTLE! There's always a second, third or fourth opinion and a wide list of other docs to choose from.



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