5 On Your Side

Ask questions, check network to find compatible physician

Posted May 25
Updated May 26

Many health insurance plans require users to designate a primary care physician, but finding the right doctor can be difficult.

Consumer Reports has some suggestions on how to find a good doctor.

“Evidence suggests having a primary care doctor means you’re less likely to die of cancer, heart disease or stroke," said Consumer Reports' Orly Avitzur. "You’re also less likely to need to go to an emergency room or be admitted to a hospital.”

Consumer Reports recommends using the first appointment with any new doctor to make sure you’ll work well together.

Did he or she listen without interrupting? Did the doctor ask more than just a checklist of yes-or-no questions?

Primary care physician James Welters says a lot can be learned by just chatting with your doctor.

“Some of the most fortuitous things are when people really come in for one thing, but when you start to talk to them about it, it’s really something else," Welters said. "And if you had just went down the path of, say, abdominal pain and ignored their other concerns, then you might’ve missed something.”

Consumer Reports says patients want a doctor who also asks for input, such as how the person feels about a certain type of treatment.

“Patients who have a strong relationship with their physician not only report greater satisfaction with their care but also better overall health,” Avitzur said.

And above all, you want a doctor who orders the right tests and prescribes the best possible treatment.

Reliable data on those measures are hard to find, although physician report cards are becoming more common. You can go to InformedPatientInstitute.org to see if there’s a report card for your doctor.

Another important factor in choosing a doctor is affordability.

Call the office to make sure the doctor is in your insurance plan, and find out his or her hospital affiliation. If the hospital is outside your network, you could be hit by a big bill.

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