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Doctors 101 (Choosing, Working With Effectively, Switching, Paying For)


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A well qualified, experienced doctor and a good relationship with that doctor can be critical to your health care.

Outcomes tend to be better when people act more as active health care consumers than as "patients."

As you read through the following summary, keep in mind that links to information about each subject are below.

With respect to doctors, it is advisable to:

  • Take the time to choose the best doctor for your situation and your individual concerns
  • Decide the kind of relationship you want with each doctor, including who will be the decision maker (the doctor, you with the doctor's input, or a trusted family member or friend.)
  • Decide who will be the decision maker (you or the doctor)
  • Prepare for each appointment. For example:
    • Keep track of symptoms you experience between meetings. (We provide a symptoms diary to help)
    • Write down your questions and prioritize them before the meeting. (We provide a Prioritizer to help keep track. A push of a button reorders your questions so you can ask the ones that are most important to you first.)
    • Schedule tests you take periodically before the meeting so the two of you can review the results at the meeting. (Your doctor's office or nurse can arrange the test for you.)
    • If important subjects will be discussed, consider taking someone to act as a patient advocate with you.
  • Learn how to maximize your time together and what to do afterward.
  • Keep in mind there is advice about handling bumps in the relationship, and, if needed, about how to change doctors.

To maximize your relationship with a doctor:

  • When you call for an appointment, state the purpose so that appropriate time can be scheduled.
  • Communicate well when you're together (for example, by using medical terms to help make the discussion more precise and less time consuming).
  • Be firm, but polite, in getting what you need. It has been reported that doctors tend to spend more time with patients they like and less time with people who act pushy and obnoxious.
  • Keep your doctors up to date. (For a simple system for keeping your doctor(s) to date, click here.)

When it comes to important medical decisions, trust your doctor's expert opinion, but consider verifying on your own. If medical tests are recommended, become an informed consumer before agreeing. 

Learn how to work the medical system so you can get what you need from each of your doctors. For example, if you have more than one specialist, be sure one acts as a health care coordinator. If there isn't such a person, appoint one.

Dr. Jerome Groopman suggests that if there have been the same symptoms for a long time and recommended treatments have not solved the problem, ask your doctor the question: " What else could it be?" The question can can help your doctor look at the situation from a different angle or perhaps put together the pieces of information in a new way.

Try to develop a relationship with the doctor and the office staff, particularly with doctors you see over and over. You may need to call upon their individual services should you have a problem. Having a friend on the doctor's staff can be an immense help when you need to see the doctor in a hurry and there are no appointments available or you need something done in a hurry.

If you have a major decision to make, things aren't clear or you just feel as if you need one, you can ask for a second opinion. The request should is so common the first doctor should not be offended. Second opinions are usually covered by health insurance.

If bumps or problems arise in the relationship, try to work them out. If you can't, change doctors.

Keep in mind that, if needed, there are doctors who make house calls.

Experience indicates that our information helps patients work most effectively with a doctor. After reading an article, click on the back button on your browswer to return to this overview.


  • If you have health insurance, check with your insurer to find out if telemedicine is covered. With telemedicine you connect with your doctor over the telephone or the internet.
  • Because of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), doctors cannot discriminate against you because of your health condition. For information, click here.

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