A few months ago, I sat in a neurologist’s office listing off my health history as staff members swept the floor and dumped out garbage cans around me. My migraines had recently gotten worse, so in the middle of an attack, I scheduled the first appointment that was available — the last of the day at an office a couple of blocks from my apartment.
As I lifted my feet to let a broom pass under me, I realized the office probably wasn’t expecting a last-minute, end-of-day appointment — but why make it so obvious? Not only did I feel unwelcome, I felt like the doctor wasn’t listening to me. My suspicion was confirmed when he sent me home with a prescription for a medication known to lower the effectiveness of the birth control pill I had made sure to mention, and another for a heavy-duty drug with serious side effects he hadn’t told me about. I cancelled my follow-up appointment.
There wasn’t much I felt I could do at the time to find a better doctor — I was desperate for relief and wanted to see someone that day. But healthcare can be expensive enough without wasting money on a total dud of an appointment. So how do doctors themselves suggest finding the perfect medical match?
1. Do your research
“I have found that the majority of new patients find a doctor from a directory on their insurance provider list,” says Dr. Ellie Heintze, a business mentor for wellness providers. “I wish patients would take it one step further and research that provider, go to their website, read their reviews, and even call the office to see if they do a free consultation. This single-handedly makes the difference to see if a doctor is the right fit for you.”
2. Pick up the phone
Not only can you get some questions answered (do they take same-day appointments?) when you call the office, you can also get a feel for how your appointment might go. “I would watch out for doctor’s offices that do not have clear communication and process set in place,” says Dr. Heintze. “Did someone answer when you called or inquired in a timely matter? If not, this might be a sign of lack of organization in the office.”
3. Read reviews carefully
“Look for reviews that offer specific information about their experience with the doctor, not just one word ‘great!’ answers,” says Dr. Mark Khorsandi, a migraine surgeon at the Migraine Relief Center. He recommends Google reviews. “[They] are usually pretty accurate, as they have to be tied to a name and a profile picture.” Check the doctor’s own site, too. “Find doctors that maybe offer video testimonials of actual patients discussing their experiences for the camera.”
Just don’t be discouraged when you don’t see a response from the doctor addressing a possible issue. “One thing to remember is that HIPPA means doctors often can’t respond to reviews without creating a violation situation,” says Dr. Khorsandi. “So a lack of response from the doctor doesn’t always mean they’re ignoring the reviews.” And if your situation or condition is unique, ask the doctor if you can get some patient referrals before you schedule your appointment, Dr. Khorsandi suggests. “If a doctor is not willing to connect you with previous patients, you may want to dig a little deeper and find someone else.”
4. Think beyond specialty
Finding a doctor who specializes in the care you need is crucial — but so is finding a doctor whose healthcare beliefs line up with yours, says Dr. Tracy Asamoah, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and founder of Enkounterd, a startup company that matches patients with their ideal doctors. “If you value a clinician that will explore a variety of holistic treatment options, then do not choose a doctor who has no interest or experience in non-pharmaceutical approaches to medical care,” she says.
5. Ask about other practitioners
Before you book, ask this: which practitioners, other than your doctor, may see you during an appointment? “Some doctors work with nurse practitioners or physician assistants who see their patients for most follow-ups,” says Dr. Asamoah. “The benefit is that it may allow you to obtain appointments with short notice and midlevel providers may have more time to spend with patients. However, if your expectation is to always see the physician, then such a practice may not be ideal for you.”