Is your doctor right for you

Finding the right doctor involves cobbling together information from a variety of sources, including your own observations and interactions, according to the magazine Consumer Reports on Health. But even the perfect doctor won’t be much help if you can’t reach him when you need him.

Patients report many roadblocks to good care, ranging from long waits for appointments to not enough time in the office once you get there. Here’s how to fix three common problems and tips on when to switch doctors if common office problems interfere with your care:

Problem No. 1: You often have to wait weeks or more for an appointment.

The fix: If you think your problem requires urgent, but not emergency attention, express that clearly to the receptionist. If you still can’t be seen as soon as you’d like, ask to speak to the doctor directly or to the office’s triage nurse. Only a health professional, not the receptionist, can determine how serious your problem really is.

If you still can’t get in, don’t rush to the emergency room. Instead, see if there are any nearby urgent care or walk-in clinics that accept your insurance. These facilities can handle basic health care complaints and are far better options than waiting for hours in an emergency room for relatively minor problems.

The switch: Look for practices that offer open access scheduling in which doctors typically leave part of each day’s schedule unbooked so they can offer some same-day appointments.

Problem No. 2: Your visits are often rushed, without enough time for in-depth discussions.

The fix: Make the most of the time you do have by preparing a list of concerns, ranked by importance. If your doctor interrupts, ask for a chance to finish or return to the topic later. If you don’t cover all the issues on your list, ask for a follow-up appointment just to talk, or see if there is another health provider in the office whom you could see to have those discussions.

The switch: Look for doctors who encourage email or fax communication — efficient, easy ways to address non-emergency matters.

Problem No. 3: Your doctor discouraged you from reviewing your medical record.

The fix: Insist — it’s your legal right. The doctor can require you to submit your request in writing and to pay for photocopying. Checking your medical record allows you to correct mistakes and gives you a sense of your progress in managing your health. Ask your doctor to explain terms or abbreviations you don’t understand.

The switch: Look for practices that use electronic medical records. Such reports are typically easier to read — and more likely to be accurate — than handwritten ones.

To determine if your doctor is providing the basic preventive health care and screening recommended by most national and professional associations you should follow a checklist of what should be involved in a physical exam, immunizations and screening tests. People with symptoms, risk factors or chronic diseases may need to be tested sooner, more often, or more extensively than guidelines recommend.

Physical exam: Abdomen, breasts, heart, height and weight, neck, pelvic, rectal, testicles and groin.

Immunizations: Hepatitis B, influenza, pneumococcal, tetanus booster, varicella.

Screening tests definitely or probably needed: Blood pressure, bone density, colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy plus fecal occult blood test, complete lipid profile, eye exam, fasting plasma glucose, mammography, pap smear and human papillomavirus testing for women, thyroid-stimulating hormone.

Doctors’ educational and professional background can be researched through many Web sites, including and