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Great health starts with a great doctor (and a great patient)

Physician in the front with a family out of focus in the background.

Choosing a primary health care provider for yourself and your family is an important decision; after all, you’re trusting them with your life – literally. Ideally you want someone who is both knowledgeable and relatable. But where do you start? Patricia J. Sulak, M.D., professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, fills us in on tips to choose a good provider, but also reminds us that to find a good provider, we must also be good patients.

There are two ways you can begin your search: the Internet and asking for recommendations from friends and family.

The Internet is a great tool for finding doctors in your area. Most local hospital and clinic websites will allow you to search their health care professionals and narrow the search by specialty and gender preference. If you are looking for a health care provider that is covered by your insurance plan, another good place to start is on your insurance’s website. Most insurance companies have a section that allows you to search doctors in your area that are in their network.

Narrow down the search

Searching the Internet for a provider can yield a lot of results to sift through. Asking friends, family and coworkers for advice can narrow those options. Unlike information you can get by searching on the Internet, those close to you can give you a better idea of a physician’s personality.

“Make sure that when asking for recommendations, you find out why they like their physician,” Sulak said. “The things that your friends and family like about their doctor may or may not be important to you. Maybe you prefer to get to the point and just take care of business, but your friend or relative likes someone that is very personable with a certain demeanor. “ Whether good or bad, having this knowledge at your disposal will increase your chances of choosing a provider that is right for your family.

Determine the best kind of doc for you

It’s first important to decide what type of health care provider you want to see.

“The best way to go about this is looking at your own health and medical history and decide the types of care you wish to receive,” Sulak said.

A primary care physician can provide a home base for all routine medical needs, and should be your go-to when you’re feeling ill. They can even direct you to a specialist, should the need arise.

Many women may wonder if they need both a primary care physician and an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN). Sulak said not always. Some OB/GYNs may be able to take care of your general health needs also, especially if you are young, while some primary care providers may also offer to do your pelvic exam in addition to your other health needs. She went on to say that if you have difficult menstrual problems or other reproductive health and hormone issues, you may want to see an OB/GYN.

If you have a significant chronic disorder such as diabetes, liver disease or heart disease, you may also want to consider looking into a specialist (or have your primary care physician refer you to one). Most specialists will only want to care for concerns that relate to the health problem they specialize in, which means that you would need to see both a specialist and a primary care physician.

During your search, you may notice that there are primary care providers without an M.D., like nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants. Nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants can provide some of the same services that an M.D. or D.O. can provide, and usually work with them as a team

Get prepped for your first appointment

Finding a good provider is the first step, but now it’s time for you to be a good patient.

After you have found a promising option, you are ready to set up an appointment. To make sure that things go smoothly, be sure to make an up-to-date list of:

  • Any illnesses you have been treated for in the past or currently
  • Any surgical procedures
  • Prescribed and over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements you are currently taking
  • Allergies
  • Family medical history: first and second degree relatives
  • Current medical concerns

Coming to your appointment prepared can help make the most of the time you have with your health care provider. “Your physician wants to be able to help you with any issues that you are dealing with, but we only have so much time,” Sulak said. Having this list prepared can help your provider get all the information they need quickly, and get to the issue that you came in for.

When it comes to talking about current concerns, Sulak offers this advice, “Cut to the chase. Physicians just need the necessary details of what is going on, not the exact time of day, where you were or whom you were with when the issue started. Your physician will ask if they need more details, like how it happened or how long the problem has been going on.”

“Deciding on the right health care provider for you is important, but even more vital, you need to decide what kind of patient you are going to be,” Sulak said. “There is only so much your physician can do for you, such as take a good history and perform a physical exam, give recommendations, order tests, and prescribe medications or recommend surgery.  If you want optimal health, it’s up to you to get to your ideal body weight, eat a diet high in vegetables, fruits, and grains, and exercise most days of the week as recommended by the American Heart Association and the Center for  Disease Control.   Partner with your provider and take an active role in your health care.”

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