Ask to see your medical records. While the original records may be the property of the hospital or medical group, good doctors believe the information belongs to the patients, and so they will provide copies. Doctors also know that patients can ask for copies of any notes and all correspondence between their primary-care physician and specialists.
Bring a notepad. Patients should always show up to appointments with key questions jotted down, and, in the case of more serious health problems, it’s best to bring another person along to help remember everything.
“Always have a friend or family member with you during a hospital stay,” recommends Mark Jacobs, a Houston obstetrician. “If things don’t seem like they are going well, there’s a strong likelihood that they aren’t. Don’t be afraid to speak up and don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion.”
Know when to schedule visits. Early appointments are more likely to take place on time, and everyone is simply fresher and more alert at the start of the workday. Also, some doctors warn against planning elective surgery for July or August, when inexperienced medical students begin their residencies, and hospitals can be especially chaotic. Most facilities are best avoided around holidays as well, because they tend to be shorter staffed.
Make nice with the support team. Doctors know the power the receptionist wields, controlling who gets appointments on short notice. Soden suggests getting to know the staff, coming prepared with the right forms, and bringing coffee or treats when you visit. “It’s amazing how you can get worked in if they like you,” he explains.
Ask a nurse. “Nurses see everyone in the course of their work, and know as well as or better than anyone which doctors take good care of their patients and which do not,” says Michael F. Nigro, Jr., a surgeon in Alexandria, Virginia. “And don’t ask an administrative type. Find a nurse who spends time taking care of sick patients.”
Get personal. Ask a doctor where he would send his mother. It’s a simple question that reflects exactly how doctors find their own doctors. Physicians are sometimes obligated to refer patients to a colleague in their own medical or insurance group. But when pressed, most will tell you whom they would entrust with the care of their own family.
To locate and learn about doctors and hospitals, try these resources:
bestdoctors.com: Houses a database of doctors recommended by other doctors.
ama-assn.org: Website for the American Medical Association, which allows users to find a doctor or look up credentials.
abms.org: The American Board of Medical Specialties website, which lists whether a doctor is certified in a recognized medical specialty.
healthgrades.com: Rates hospitals for various procedures.
docinfo.org: Provides access to disciplinary reports.
docboard.org: Offers licensing, background and disciplinary information on physicians.