- Be wary of those who rely on mass media to advertise their services. A truly good physician (or any other professional for that matter) relies on word of mouth and referrals from their peers to build their practice. They don't need big, gaudy ads in magazines or newspapers, billboard space or television commercials. They don't offer coupons, freebies other gimmicks to rope you in.
- If you have insurance, begin with their website directory. This will confirm let you know who is "In Network" or not. Most sites allow you to search by specialty and type of practice (private, clinic, group, hospital). They will included a short profile including educational background, years in practice, languages spoken, sub-specialties and contact information. It also gives you the opportunity to narrow your search according to your location.
- Better yet, ask your primary care physician. Doctors usually have particular providers they recommend and in turn, can assist you with referrals if necessary. Although there may be a certain amount of favoritism based on reciprocal referrals, most offices will adjust this list according to patients experiences. While you're at it, have a check up if you have not done so recently. Emotional distress might be linked to physical ailments or be the result of adverse side effects of a medication.
- Friends and family are also valuable resources. Nothing is better than first hand accounts, that is as long as you allow enough wiggle room for personal preferences and personalities.
- Just as you might turn to "Consumer Reports" when shopping for a particular item, there are Internet sites dedicated to personal reviews written by former or current patients. Check out RateMDs.com or HealthGrades.com. Just bear in mind, you need to find that fine balance between extremely positive and negative comments. Some doctors are trying to fight off patient's freedom of speech, looking for ways to shut these sites down. However, the fact is - any legitimate business opens itself up to being judged by its clients and consumers and doctors are no exception.
- If you are a connoisseur of MDs you can always check TopDocs in America. Just note - most of these doctors are located in major cities and because of their reputation many may be closed to accepting new patients or have long waiting periods for appointments. Make sure they are covered by your insurance and if not, be prepared for the bill - you pay top dollar for top quality.
- The American Medical Association is another great resource for information on training, certifications, and disciplinary actions. And if all these resources are not enough, use social media to check them out. Many doctors have Facebook accounts, blogs, or can be found on LinkedIn (a professional networking site). Or - simply Google their name. You'll be surprised how much you can learn with just a few minutes of effort.
Now that you have narrowed down your selection, "the dating phase" begins. Begin taking careful notes even before meeting face to face.
- Were you able to get in to see the doctor within a reasonable frame of time following your initial request for an appointment?
- When you arrive at the office, is the staff friendly and welcoming? Remember, they are the conduit to him and if they are miserable, rude or outright incompetent - it might give you an idea about the character in the other room.
- Note the waiting area. Is it clean, pleasant and orderly? Are there reading materials and informational pamphlets for to peruse that are up to date - or are they torn and dated? I like to keep the late Erma Bombeck's quote in mind -“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.”
- How long are you kept waiting before seeing the doctor? No more than ten minutes is ideal. However, if you are left sitting there for a half hour or more or are told, "I'm sorry but the doctor is running behind" too often, it may be time to find someone new. Remember, your time is also valuable, a fact that should be respected. For those who choose to sit it out, make sure your session is not rushed or cut short.
- Does the doctor greet you by name and shake your hand?
- Look around. Is his office and desk neat and organized? This is a good indication about how HIS mind works.
Before getting down to business ask some or all of the following questions. This is your chance to interview him to get an idea of whether or not he is the right person for the "job" of treating you. After all, this will be a working relationship. Get a feeling for his style, temperament and approach and how comfortable you are with it.
• What are his credentials; schooling, accreditation, licensing etc (if you do not already know)?
• How long has he been in practice?
• What is his specialty?
• What are the office policies on missed appointments, payments etc?
• Is he available, on call in emergencies?
• What sort of approach does he take to therapy? (have him explain it in detail)
• How long does it take for him to evaluate a patient confidently (this should be a min. of 6 visits)?
• If this is a psychiatrist, is he all drugs and no talk, or does he combine both approaches?
• Is he open to you receiving or referring you to alternative therapies?
• Is he willing to disclose his treatment plan and notes to you (by law all doctors must do this as well as providing you with an idea of how long you will be in therapy and what goals you are working towards?
If you are in a weakened state of mind, take a family member or friend with you as support. They cannot and should not be turned away.
We need to be informed and ready to advocate for ourselves. While we may need help when it comes to healing our bodies and minds, our welfare is ultimately in our hands. Carefully choosing the right therapist will maximize the benefits reaped from the experience.