You’re used to accompanying your loved one on medical visits and nudging them to follow the doctor’s orders. Now they need to choose a new doctor — maybe because your family member or their doctor is moving, or perhaps because a new or worsening health condition requires a specialist. You want to help your loved one make an informed decision. You may even have the sole responsibility of selecting a doctor on behalf of someone who is unable to do it for themselves.
Here are four important considerations to help you and your loved one choose well.
References and Referrals
Your first step could be to look for sources that can point you toward top-quality candidates for taking over your loved one’s medical care. Consider asking doctors and other healthcare providers you already know for referrals. Consumer Reports notes that professional recommendations are sometimes more insightful than the opinions of friends or family members about their favorite doctors.
Online listings managed by professional medical societies and other reputable organizations may also be useful. The National Library of Medicine, run by the National Institutes of Health, offers a comprehensive list of physician directories.
A doctor’s professional grade isn’t the only thing that matters. Their personality, philosophy and communication style also make a difference. Research, including pioneering studies at Thomas Jefferson University, has linked healthcare provider qualities like empathy, clear communication and a respect for the patient’s health-related goals and values to better health results.
You may not learn much about these qualities until your loved one has had their first visit with a doctor, but you can consider how the new doctor measures up before deciding if this is the one or you should keep looking.
Consumer Reports suggests watching for clues like whether the doctor listens to the patient without interrupting and fully addresses any questions, as well as how well they explain their diagnosis and treatment plan. Don’t just focus on the doctor’s bedside manner, the article advises, but also note how friendly, respectfully and efficiently the staff behaves.
Other key criteria will affect how easily your family member can access the physician’s care, especially if they have certain preferences regarding the choice of medical facilities and the scheduling of appointments. As Consumer Reports points out, a doctor’s hospital admitting privileges, the typical wait time for scheduling a routine visit and how long patients with appointments usually wait before getting into the examining room are all important factors to weigh before deciding if your loved one should be added to a doctor’s patient list.
Experience and Credentials
You may want to narrow your search to doctors who have extensive experience treating older patients or those with a focus on treating one or more of the specific medical conditions your loved one is dealing with. If you prefer a specialist, make sure they are certified through the American Board of Medical Specialties, which means they have completed additional training, exams and licensing beyond their medical degree. This article from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine offers helpful tips on deciding whether to choose a geriatrician, which is a physician dedicated to treating elderly patients.