Escondido, CA

The doctor is in?

Have you ever called to make an appointment with your doctor only to learn that he or she is no long there and there is no forwarding information? This has happened to me three times in the past year and to some of my friends as well. We felt abandoned.

While unthinkable in earlier times, this, unfortunately, is becoming all too common and is quite a shock from one who came from the era when doctors were thought to be gods and infallible.

So how do we find a good doctor? People looking for a primary care doc­tor or specialist often ask friends, rela­tives or other doctors to refer them to someone they can trust. and give patient reviews and ratings but do not include a doctor’s record with state medical reviews. Reliable informa­tion about a doctor, a doctor group or a hospital is hard to find. A core defining point of a professional definition is one that takes responsibility for regulating itself. Even more difficult can be find­ing high-quality medical care that is af­fordable.

California is the state with the most doctors. There are about 100,000 prac­ticing physicians in California and 85% of them have never had a medical complaint or been placed on probation. In other words, most M.D.’s are dedi­cated, hard working, competent physi­cians.

Recent studies by the Integrated Health Association (IHA), University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the CA. Dept. of Insurance have found that the price and quality of medical procedures can dramatically differ from one medical provider to another. Most California doctors today practice in groups.

Out of pocket costs vary greatly across the state for the same condi­tions. It seems to depend on the ne­gotiating skills of the health care pro­vider. Larger, more powerful groups often charge more.

Getting an appointment when you need it is key. Here are some patient friendly traits:

• If you find a doctor you like, call the office to see if he/she is in your medical insurance plan.

• Look for extended office hours, which allow you or your child to be seen after school or work if needed.

• Ask the staff how long you must wait to get an appointment for a rou­tine visit. This can greatly vary among doctors.

• Does the doctor spend time with you? Look you in the eye? Some doctors don’t even look up from the computer screen. Taking the time to listen often pays off in not ordering unnecessary tests, controls costs and improves quality.

• There should be someone to re­spond to complaints with feedback. A nurse and staff who are good commu­nicators can respond to the patient in a helpful and appropriate manner.

• A disorganized office wastes your time and can result in poor care.

• While there, evaluate how long you have to wait for an appointment. How friendly is the staff on the phone? In the waiting room? Chances are, these are the people you will be dealing with the most. Rudeness and disorga­nization get old very fast whether on the phone or in the office. You have a right to be treated with respect and efficiency. Less than that produces resentment and frustration.

• If you are struggling with a prob­lem (extra weight, for example), let your doctor know you need some extra support. If you do not ask, you may not get.

• Be sure to check on which hospitals with which they are affiliated because this will determine where you will go.

• A question I would now ask is whether the physician plans to stay at the present location for an extended period or whether he/she anticipates moving to a different location in the future. If yes, I would ask if patients would be notified in advance.

To see comparisons of hospital ratings and health care costs, go to Consumer­

For doctor ratings from the Califor­nia Office of the Patient Advocate, go to: aspx

To see if the Federation of State Medical Boards has any licensing re­strictions or discipline issues go to :

Good physicians work long hours, incur large debts, and are dedicated to our care under increasingly difficult situations under the new health care laws. Their responsibilities and liabili­ties are off the charts. They deserve our deep respect.

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