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House Call: Communication is key in choosing a doctor

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 22, 2020

France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga talks with a tournament doctor before retiring from his first-round match against Australia’s Alexei Popyrin at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, on Tuesday. (Andy Wong / AP)
France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga talks with a tournament doctor before retiring from his first-round match against Australia’s Alexei Popyrin at the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia, on Tuesday. (Andy Wong / AP)
By Dr. Bob Riggs For The Spokesman-Review

For some of you, a new year might mean choosing a new primary care provider. You might be doing this because you have different insurance, your provider is retiring or no longer in your insurance network or some other reason.

Whatever the reason, this is an important decision that could affect future health outcomes.

You deserve a health care provider with whom you feel comfortable and can talk. He or she should be willing to listen to your perspective when it comes to your treatment.

It also is important that you listen to your provider’s advice and seriously weigh the pros and cons of your options before making health care choices. Something valuable to consider is how you like your health care information provided to you.

Do you like detailed information? Or perhaps you find broader, more general information more digestible. Also, do you like a warm and friendly style or a more formal one? Some providers tend to ask a lot of questions, give detailed explanations and might run late.

If that would bother you, you should look for a provider for whom running on time is a priority. Choosing a provider who communicates to you in your preferred style goes a long way toward making the relationship between you and your medical provider one that you trust and rely on.

You may have noticed that I am using terms like clinician and provider instead of physician. Primary care can be provided by physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants or a combination of these in some practices.

I have tremendous respect for my non-physician clinician colleagues, and they provide great care. Another consideration is if you absorb information better when you hear it, read it or follow up hearing information with reading.

If you have a condition or conditions that require a specialist’s care, you want to be sure there is good communication between you, your primary care clinician and your specialist. Talking to friends who see the primary care provider you are considering switching to can be helpful.

But keep in mind that you and your friends may have different preferences. Other things you might want to consider when making your choice include the following:

Is the office staff friendly and helpful?

Do the office hours work with your schedule?

Is the provider easy to reach on the phone or by email?

Does the provider welcome questions about treatment options?

Is it difficult to get an appointment on short notice?

How much guidance do you want when making health care choices?

Do you need a provider who specializes in age groups (pediatrics or geriatrics) or multiple health problems (board-certified physician)?

Is the office in a convenient location with parking?

It might not be possible to find a provider who matches up with every one of your answers to these considerations and questions, so I recommend ranking your needs by importance once you’ve determined what you’re looking for in a primary care provider.

Then you can start talking to family and friends and reading online reviews of providers (remember that unhappy customers are more likely to take the time to write a review than happy ones).

Finding the most suitable provider for you takes work, but, in the long run, you will be glad you took the time and effort to find a good match.

Bob Riggs is a family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente’s Riverfront Medical Center.

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