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Search for the Good Doctor

Looking for a new doctor? We all have different ideas about what a “good” doctor is, but here are some basics to keep in mind as you choose.

The best way to begin your search is to ask around. Friends, co-workers and neighbors can be wonderful sources, and don’t forget about other health care providers you already see, such as your pharmacist and your dentist. You should seriously consider a geriatric specialist, or at least a doctor with many older patients in his or her practice.

Your insurance company probably has a list of geriatric specialists, and most HMOs list their approved doctors by specialty. Also, don’t forget that most major hospitals have large geriatric departments. We’re very fortunate to have the Geriatric Assessment Center at the UConn Health Center in Farmington, I’ve brought many clients there who’ve had multiple problems and we’ve had great results.

Diagnosing the health problems of senior citizens requires special training, and doctors who see many older patients know what they’re looking for. Early diagnosis and early treatment are especially critical in treating diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Geriatricians also understand how physical difficulties in older people can have psychological roots. For instance, dementia-type symptoms are often assumed to be related to Alzheimer’s, when in fact there can be many other causes such as malnutrition or depression.

Once you’ve found a doctor with the proper qualifications, it’s time for a conversation. Call the office, make sure the doctor accepts new patients (and your insurance plan) and book an appointment. Starting with your first conversation, you’ll have to judge how well this physician fits your idea of a “good” doctor. Some questions to consider, both at the beginning and later on:

-Does the doctor listen to you without interrupting? Does he or she hear what you’re saying? The most common complaint about doctors from patients is that they simply don’t take the time to listen carefully.

-Does he or she ask questions and encourage you to ask questions? Does he or she speak to you with respect or condescension? Does he or she take your complaints seriously about your health?

-Does he or she speak in jargon or everyday language? This is important, since you and your doctor need to understand each other completely.

-Are appointments tough to get? Do you wait an unreasonably long time once you’re in the office? Does the doctor spend enough time with you? Some HMOs allow their physicians as little as eight minutes per visit, which simply isn’t enough time for older patients with complicated (or many) problems.

-Does the doctor explain the reasons behind the test he or she orders and the medications he or she prescribes?

Once you’ve found your doctor, don’t forget that you need to do your part, too. Here are some basics on how to participate in your own health care. The most important thing you can do is to make sure that, if you have several doctors, each doctor knows what the others are doing. For example, your primary care doctor might be giving you a medication given by another physician.

The easiest thing to do is to write down everything you’re taking before each visit to any doctor, or even to take the bottles with you. This means over-the-counter medications, as well and not just prescription drugs. Even something as innocuous as eye-drops for cataracts could interact with other medications and cause problems.

Also, make sure you write down any questions you have for the doctor, try to spend more time than you would spend to look for a new car. The investment you’ll make in your health is worth it.

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