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
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
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
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.