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Choosing a doctor? How to know you’ve found “the one”

Spoiler alert: Ask a lot of questions and trust your gut

Meeting a new doctor is a lot like a blind date—you hope for the best, but you really have no idea what to expect.

Let’s face it: you probably choose your doctor sight unseen — say, from your health plan’s list of in-network providers, or using an online service. Even if you choose your doctor based on the recommendation of a friend or relative, it’s hard to be know if they’ll be a good fit for your conditions and needs. So, how can you be confident you’re making the right choice?

First, the basics. (These should be non-negotiable): Your doctor’s name should be followed by “MD” (“medical doctor”) or “DO” (“doctor of osteopathic medicine”). That means they attended a traditional medical school. They should also be board certified. That means they graduated college and attended at least three years of residency, or on-the-job training in their field of specialty. They should also be licensed to practice medicine in the state where you live. And, they should accept your insurance, have a convenient location, and be open during hours that work with your schedule.

But what about the intangibles—those things you can’t quite measure—that let you know in your gut you made the right choice? Here, four medical professionals—a general practitioner, a pediatrician, an anesthesiologist, and a nurse practitioner—share their tips about how you can know you found the “one.”

Choose “a health care team”

I think [it boils down to] a general vibe that you get the moment you make contact with the group and/or doctor, including interactions with ancillary staff.
Chris Painter, MD, anesthesiologist, Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Stanford, CA

Know that your doctor functions in the context of a larger team, and you’re not just choosing a doctor—you’re choosing a health care team. You should trust the team from the front desk, to schedulers, to nurses. Finding a practice that communicates effectively and provides support services is also important.
Amelia Sattler, MD, general practitioner, Stanford Family Medicine, Stanford, CA


Find a doctor who listens and is “willing to advocate”

Finding the “right” doctor is a very personal quest. In general, I recommend finding a doctor who makes you feel heard; someone who is a partner in your care as opposed to the primary decision maker; and someone who takes time to understand your perspective and particular care needs.
Amelia Sattler, MD, general practitioner, Stanford Family Medicine, Stanford, CA

You should also hopefully try to find a doctor that is willing to listen and advocate for their patients. That doesn’t mean one who will simply do what the patient wants at all times because the patient is asking (i.e., prescribe antibiotics for a cold that is viral in nature simply because the patient wants an antibiotic).
Chris Painter, MD, anesthesiologist, Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Stanford, CA

The other factors that are important to consider are personality and bedside manner. Is this someone who listens to you and treats you with respect? Do you trust them to take your concerns seriously? Are they interested in hearing you?
— Niki Flemmer, nurse practitioner in gynecologic oncology, Seattle, WA and founder of TheWeBelongProject


Look at their experience treating people like you

If you need surgery, meet with the surgeon and ask about how many procedures they’ve done and the complication rates. That’s also a good way of making an informed decision. If there’s any doubt, getting a second opinion is always a good idea.
— Niki Flemmer, nurse practitioner in gynecologic oncology, Seattle, WA and founder of TheWeBelongProject


Ultimately, choose based on comfort (“trust your gut”)

Consider your doctor’s personality and find one you can relate to. Ask friends and family for recommendations. Don’t feel your choice needs to be fully logical or scientifically based. Choose [a doctor] based on your comfort level. For example, you might prefer the doctor to be the same gender as your child. Or, you might want a doctor who’s also a parent, or one who shares a similar cultural or religious background. The bottom line is there’s no “right” or “best” answer. Find a doctor whose style best fits your needs and will be a supportive partner in your healthcare journey for your child.
Jennifer Shu, MD, pediatrician and author, Atlanta, GA

Trust your gut. You likely have been meeting people your whole life and make social decisions based on those interactions. Choosing a doctor is really no different. Do a little homework, ask around, and then most importantly, judge for yourself. If it feels right, give it a chance. If it doesn’t, reflect upon whatever is making you uneasy and consider seeking care elsewhere.
Chris Painter, MD, anesthesiologist, Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Stanford, CA

Know that you may need to visit more than one to find the right fit. There may be many different “right fits.”
Amelia Sattler, MD, general practitioner, Stanford Family Medicine, Stanford, CA

If you’re a part of a minority population, you can also look for environmental cues that signify purposeful inclusion. For example, if you’re an LGBT patient, you can look to see if there’s a non-discrimination policy posted, or if there are visual cues (HRC or rainbow flag stickers). You can even evaluate the reading material in the lobby to see if it’s inclusive. Another example is a patient with excess weight who comes for their appointment but all the chairs have sides and there are none that accommodate their size. That’s a very subtle but very powerful indicator of safety. It’s important to remember that even though the doctor is the expert in science, you – the patient – are the expert on your life. How you feel and what you want matters. Each patient will have their own criteria for what makes a “good” doctor. I think it’s important for individuals to know what those criteria are for them and to keep looking until they find a good fit.
— Niki Flemmer, nurse practitioner in gynecologic oncology, Seattle, WA and founder of TheWeBelongProject

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