16 August 2018

10 questions to ask before choosing a new doctor

Have you had the same doctor since childhood? Or are you struggling to find a doctor who "gets" you? Here are some things you need to consider when choosing a doctor.

If you are generally healthy, you won't visit a doctor too regularly. But even so, having a good relationship with your general practitioner is very important.

In fact, a recent study has shown that sticking with one doctor for life will help you stay healthy, and may even prolong your life. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. People change medical aid schemes or move to another town or suburb, which means finding a new doctor can’t always be avoided.

Here are 10 points you should consider to make sure you find a doctor that suits your needs.

1. Check if the doctor is registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)

It is vital that all health professionals in South Africa are registered with the HPCSA so that the public can know if they meet the required standards, and that you as a patient are protected.

The HPCSA protects the public in the following ways:

  • They set standards for the education, skills, training, conducts and ethics for medical professionals.
  • They keep a register of medical professionals.
  • They take action when any medical professionals in South Africa do not meet their standards.  

If you want to check if the professional in question is registered, you simply use the search function on their site and enter the doctor's first and last name. (Be sure to tick “wild card” instead of “exact” to help you sift through possible matches if you don’t have a doctor’s first name.) 

2. Is the practice affiliated with your medical aid?

Even though this has nothing to do with your choice of doctor as such, it’s important to know when considering money. Will your consultation cost be processed immediately, or will you have to pay cash up front and only be able to claim it back later? Make sure that your doctor's practice suits you financially. Would you be able to afford the fee out of pocket should you require an immediate consultation?

3. Do you like the receptionists and support staff?

These are the people you will first contact. How efficient are they with bookings? Do they answer the phone in a warm, friendly tone? While they might be no reflection on the actual doctor, first impressions are important.  

4. Where is the practice located?

Is it easy to get to, whether by car or public transport? Is the practice close enough for you to reach when you are not feeling well and unable to travel far? Is there sufficient parking? These factors might not make any difference to the experience you will have with the actual doctor, but it will significantly contribute to your overall experience. 

5. Do you find the doctor’s manner agreeable?

Some people prefer doctors who are direct and don’t beat around the bush, while others prefer a more sympathetic approach. Consider your doctor's modus operandi – is it compatible with your needs?

friendly patient with female doctor

6. Are blood tests and other procedures performed at the practice, or do you need to go somewhere else?

This can also be an important deciding factor – do you need to go somewhere else when you need extra tests? Can routine X-rays or tests be performed at the practice? Consider this, as any additional tests not performed at the practice might add more time to a diagnosis. There might also be additional costs which won't be immediately paid for by your medical aid. 

doctor doing blood test on patient

7. How long do you have to wait for an appointment?

Is your doctor so in demand that you're unable to get an appointment on the day you phone?

8. Perform a quick Google search

Besides visiting the HPCSA website for a background check, other results on Google such as online reviews and discussion forums might also provide valuable information about the doctor you are considering. While online reviews from the public might be subjective, they can give you a good indication of a doctor’s "bedside manner" and if they come highly recommended.

Google may also reveal additional information – like if your doctor is on any boards or committees or on any other registries.

9. Ask friends, colleagues or family for personal recommendations

Word-of-mouth recommendations are often of great value and a popular way to find a doctor. But if you don't have any family or close friends in your neighbourhood, consult Facebook community groups for personal recommendations. If you are looking for a specialist, say, for sports injuries, hobby groups such as local running groups may also provide good recommendations. 

10. Consider the doctor’s interests and further education

Does the doctor specialise in a specific field such as paediatrics or haemotology? This might mean that the doctor treats only certain cases pertaining to their field and will refer you to another specialist for anything else.

patient consulting doctor

Image credit: iStock


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