How to Choose a Doctor
This article covers several ideas, tips and points of advice on choosing a doctor, generally, and Atlanta doctors, specifically: how to find a doctor, selecting a doctor, how to check a doctors credentials, quality of doctors, best doctors, specialists, and top doctors / Orthopedic Surgeons in Atlanta, Georgia. You can choose a doctor and do this research for free, avoiding high cost or paid services like "Find a doctor" or "Healthgrades" etc.
Choosing a doctor can be an intimidating process. You want to be comfortable that you've chosen the best care for you or your loved ones. Your attention to detail in how you choose your doctor can 'make you or break you' - physically and financially.
How to choose your physician is really a two-part question. The first part relates to: "How to Choose a PRACTICE?" That is reflected by the EXPERIENCE you will have going to the doctor's office.
The second, and equally important part relates to "How to Choose Your Doctor?" That can impact the QUALITY of medical care you can expect.
Part 1: Choosing a Practice
People often confuse this process with choosing their doctor. This is not so. The practice environment is important, but mostly pertains to the quality of your visit.
- Is there adequate, affordable and convenient parking?
- Will I have long or short waiting time for the doctor?
- Is there a helpful and courteous staff?
- What is the ease of scheduling appointments / insurance verification etc.?
- Are the services/providers on my health plan?
- What are the hospitals the practice is affiliated with?
- Is there convenient handicapped parking access, close public transportation?
- Will I see the doctor, or will I see a nurse or physician's assistant?
- Is the physician taking on new patients?
- How long in advance do you need to schedule an appointment?
Those are the easy questions.
Part 2: Choosing a Doctor
(Orthopedic Surgeons are focused on, but the suggestions are applicable generally.) The more relevant things regarding your DOCTOR and the things you may NOT know to ask about are equally, if not MORE, important.
You have a name or two, but what do the people who work with that doctor say about him / her?
After you have a general sense of what you are looking for in a doctor, ask relatives, friends, co-workers, and other health professionals for recommendations. Ask about the person's experience with the doctor. A doctor whose name comes up often may be a strong possibility.
Ask physical therapists who work with the doctor. Therapists can be an excellent resource and give you the 'real deal' on the results they see in the doctor's patients. Some doctors' patients participate in online discussions and would be willing to give their testimonials, good and bad. Ask your doctor.
Where did the physician attend medical school?
All graduates from Medical Schools are MDs and can go on to become doctors. Someone graduated at the top of the class and someone finished last. Both are doctors. You want physicians that went to the best schools and did well. This is difficult to determine legally, so you basically go by the school's reputation. US News & World Report ranks the Best Medical Schools annually.
Where did the physician do his or her internship and residency (post grad training)?
Physicians go through years of advanced training AFTER medical school to learn their specific area of medicine. Internal Medicine residency is 3 years long, whereas Orthopaedic Surgery residency is 5 - 6 years long. Again, like Medical Schools, all Residency programs are not created equally. Some are under review, suspended, not accredited or without adequate teaching resources. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) or Residency Review Committee (RRC) monitors this.
You want physicians who have gone through the best training programs. US News & World Report ranks the Best Residency Programs/Hospitals annually.
4. Board Certification
- Is the doctor Board Certified?
- Has the Board ever taken any disciplinary action against the physician?
Board Certification indicates that a doctor has been trained in a certain specialty and has chosen to take certification exams given by doctors in the specialty. To maintain their certification, doctors must undergo continuing education after passing the exam. This is done by a written and oral test. Like most tests, not everyone passes.
CAUTION: some doctors are NOT certified by the national governing body of their specialty (for Orthopaedics, this is the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgeons, ABOS) and so they make up their own board, i.e. Board of Sports Medicine (which doesn't really exist) and then claim to be "Board Certified."
You also want a doctor who is a Fellow or Member of their specialties National Organization (e.g., The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons). This isn't mandatory, but it presumes that they may keep up with continuing medical education (CME) requirements and ongoing education.
5. Physician Licensure / Malpractice Claims
Is the physician currently licensed?
The status of physician licensure and malpractice claims can be checked online; however, this requires that the physician enters their own information accurately. Composite State Board of Medical Examiners.
You want a doctor with a valid medical license, in good standing, and with no malpractice judgments against him/her. Because most malpractice cases against doctors are deemed frivolous and generally dropped, and it is difficult to find out accurate information unless the doctor discloses it personally, the MagMutual Insurance Company confidentially handles most doctors malpractice information.
6. Practice Information and Experience
How long has the doctor been in practice?
Experience is a clue. Years in practice are one measure, but the number of procedures performed or people treated are also significant.
Recognize, however, that older doctors may not be as up-to-date on the latest techniques and advances as younger physicians. Some older doctors finished their training before a lot of newer technologies were available, and although they've been in practice a long time, they are not experienced with the state-of-the-art care.
If a doctor changes practice locations frequently, this could be a sign of instability, or a result of disciplinary actions which forced the moves.
7. Publications, Articles & Journals
Has your physician written articles or book chapters on your type of injury? Does your physician read medical articles or journals to stay up-to-date?
Because doctors doing research have usually published their findings in medical journals, you might ask for copies of articles in order to learn about their philosophy and approach. You may also search online databases, such as MEDLINE.
Some physicians with websites or newsletters will post information about scientific breakthroughs or new technologies that they've read about for their and your benefit. Ask your doctor.
8. Advanced Specialization or "Subspecialists"
Is the doctor a "Specialist" or a "Generalist"?
Within Orthopedic Surgery for example, you have Generalists, who treat a little of everything: fractures, foot surgery, back surgery, wrist sprains, etc., and you have several subspecialties, where the doctors have gotten additional Advanced Training. Orthopedic doctors who specialize may be able to help your general problems, but they are highly focused on particular areas such that a Hand Orthopedic Doctor might not have much to offer you for a foot or back problem. Some specialty areas include: Pediatric Orthopedics, Hand Surgery, Sports Medicine (shoulders and knees), Adult Reconstruction, Spine Surgery, Foot & Ankle surgery and Musculoskeletal Oncology (tumors).
A great generalist is fine, but you might consider seeing a "specialist" for your particular problem in the event that it requires surgery.
9. Communicating with your Doctor
- What's the doctor's bedside manner?
- Do they speak in terms you can understand, or in over your head medical lingo?
- Do they really LISTEN to you and hear you out?
- Do you get the sense that they CARE?
Are they available to you? Do they have a website or an email you can access?
You must feel comfortable with your ability to interact with your doctor. Period.
10. Staff Members working with the doctor
Who besides the doctor will be on your health care team?
You may want to make certain you have introduced yourself to the entire team for any future needs. If the doctor visit is typically 3 minutes long and the nurse or physician assistant visit is 30 minutes, you need to consider your comfort level with that system. Please see the article on "Who Else takes Care of You".
11. General Resources and Facilities
Are you going to be able to get everything in one stop or do you have to travel all over the city?
Some doctors have small, private offices with a personal feel. Others can feel large and 'corporate.' You have to decide which is better for you. A small office affords a private feel to it, but you may have to drive to another place for an X-ray, and drive elsewhere for bloodwork, and yet another place for an MRI, and drive across town for the pharmacy, and get your brace from a medical supply store that just closed, and then drive back across town for your physical therapy. You get the point? With traffic in Atlanta, you might need another doctor after all that driving.
Alternatively, some doctor's offices have all those resources under one roof, making it much more convenient for your care. These offices are often larger, and some people find that intimidating or impersonal.
12. Hospital Affiliations
What hospital would the doctor admit you to in case of emergency?
You want to be sure that in the event you need to present to the hospital, that your physician is affiliated with a reputable and good hospital and is able to treat you while there. Knowing your physician's hospital affiliations would also help in the event of an emergency, you or your family could provide the information as to what hospital you would like to be admitted to or treated at.
One of the Best Hospitals in Atlanta, Georgia include St. Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta. Saint Joseph's is the only Atlanta hospital named to J.D. Power and Associates Distinguished Hospital Program for Service Excellence. As a result of its medical excellence, compassionate care and cost-effectiveness, Saint Joseph’s has received numerous awards including the distinguished Magnet Award for Nursing Excellence from the American Nurses Association Credentialing Center; a HealthGrades rating of "best in Georgia and top five percent in the nation" for cardiac and vascular programs; Solucient’s list of 100 Top Hospitals in the country for cardiac and orthopedic care; and Magnet Award winner, again, for excellent nursing care.
13. Finances and Ethics
Medical care can be excessively costly. Is the doctor willing to work with your particular financial needs?
You want someone who remains committed to his or her medical oaths and service. Does your doctor volunteer his/her time anywhere? Do they appreciate the needs of the indigent and less fortunate?
Hopefully this helps you with a very important decision. If you are getting a runny nose checked, all this may be more than you need to deal with. If, however, you are considering surgery or a questionable diagnosis, consider these items above and / or getting a second opinion.