Considering the nature of the doctor/patient relationship, putting in some time to find the right doctor is worth the leg work — finding the right match could be life-saving after all. So here are pointers to help you get started in your search.
Look for a doctor when you don’t need one right away. If you’re horribly sick and need to see a doctor immediately, chances are you’re going to select one who is nearby or who can fit you into their schedule as soon as possible. The problem is you won’t consider other key factors. This is why beginning your search for a family practitioner when you aren’t feeling under the weather — and when you can afford the time and energy to narrow down your choices — is important. Asking friends and neighbors about their doctor is one good way to start your search.
Establish a relationship with a doctor who is familiar with you and your family’s medical history. Of course, this isn’t feasible if you’ve just moved to a new city, but you’ll get better medical care from a doctor who’s aware of your history — which also means it may be worth trying to stick with the same doctor even if you move to another area in the city.
Figure out what your preferences are. Are you more comfortable with a male or female doctor or does their sex not make a difference to you? Is the doctor’s age important to you? Do you prefer if the doctor specializes in a certain area?
Ask lots of questions. It may be worth setting up an initial meeting with a doctor to chat with them before signing onto their practice. Some questions you may want to ask: How long has he/she been in practice? Does the doctor’s office have convenient hours for you? If you prefer to have a family physician, does the doctor offer treatment for the entire family? What type of fees does the office charge (missed appointment fees, etc.)? Is the doctor affiliated with a certain hospital (and is it one you’re comfortable being treated at, if necessary)? If the physician is away, who covers for him/her? How long does it typically take to get an appointment?
Determine how comfortable you feel talking to the doctor. Your doctor can best treat you if you openly communicate your symptoms and concerns, so the rapport you feel is a very important factor to take into consideration. Feeling at ease with the doctor’s bedside manner is crucial.
Karen Kwan is a health and lifestyle freelance writer based in Toronto. She also has a blog, Health & Swellness.
Here are some other characteristics of a good doctor.