In the ever changing world of health care and medicine, obtaining basic health care can prove to be a challenge. Fortunately, there are many ways to locate great professionals with websites emerging specifically aimed at rating physicians and the quality of health care. Likewise, technology is making it easier for consumers to educate themselves as well as provide new and convenient services such as pager apps. Besides that, there are a few basic ways you can stay ahead of the curve to help ensure you have access to the best possible medical resources and/or avoid adverse circumstances.
1) Maintain a regularly updated list of good (and bad) doctors/health care facilities including the addresses, phone numbers and respective specialties. When a friend or relative has a medical issue, quiz them on their experience and the specifics. Record the names of any hospitals, clinics, nurses etc. If you see a relevant article in a local newspaper or online, take note and enter the information into your database. Place the list in a dry safe readily accessible location or file it with the rest of your medical records (see below).
2) Research the backgrounds of all health care provider and facilities. A quick google search costs nothing and may prove extremely valuable. Key things to look for in a physician include the name of the medical school they attended, where they did their residency, number of years in practice, any honors or awards, professional memberships and hospital affiliations. A good resource for finding the top hospitals is published annually by US News & World Report, which lists individual hospitals and the specific rank for each specialty. It is worth noting that hospitals differ in their areas of excellence– some are known for their outstanding cancer facilities and others for pediatrics, ob/gyn, etc. Did your doctor train at a hospital known for being excellent in their particular are of practice? Excellent training sets the foundation for any career and medicine is no exception.
3) Contact the state medical board to make sure your provider is licensed and there have been no adverse actions.
4) Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Being an educated consumer is one of your greatest assets in the current health care environment. Good doctors don’t mind being asked questions, in fact, they encourage them because it often leads to a better understanding of the patient’s symptoms.
5) Trust you gut instinct. As in any situation, if you don’t feel comfortable with you health care provider, don’t be afraid to say so and/or find a replacement.
6) Be a your own healthcare advocate. You always have the right to a second opinion and should seek one should you have any reservations about the type of care being offered.
7) Dig deep. Before you sign that consent form, make sure to read it carefully and understand what you are signing. This can be a challenge because patients may not be consented until right before a procedure. In certain instances, such as emergency procedures, there is no other choice. But for elective procedures it’s wise to ask for a copy of the consent form well ahead of the procedure date so you have adequate time to review it.
8) Always ask for a copy of your medical records — this includes written records as well as copies of any related studies– lab results, mammograms, CT, MRI, Xrays etc. This serves a dual purpose: one it shows that you are interested in your medical care and two it provides insurance against records getting lost or destroyed (facilities have rules governing how long they are required to keep your records beyond which time they may be destroyed).
9) Develop good relationships with your medical care providers. Maintain professional relationships with your providers and try to avoid adversarial situations, such as threatening to sue them if there’s a problem. Good medical professionals can be a great source of information, and it is well worth cultivating that relationship. Sending a thank you note or bringing in a small gift can mean a lot to a provider and it never hurts to do something nice. Saying thank you or showing respect and appreciation is ever more important in the fast-paced stressful world of health care.
10) Finally, know your rights. It pays to familiarize yourself with HIPAA and the laws in your particular state. For example, patients have a right to see their medical records but certain states permit parts of the record to be excluded. There are laws and regulations governing many aspects of health care and it is to your benefit to be familiar with them. The old expression “what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” definitely does not apply to medicine, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Be proactive, understand your rights and educate yourself. It could save your life someday.