Having and maintaining our health is a top priority.  We try to eat right, exercise often, sleep enough and do things we enjoy.  Sometimes, no matter what we do, we get sick or hurt, and we need to find a healthcare provider.  This can be tricky for someone who is in general good health and hasn’t had to see many doctors.  After thanking your lucky stars that you don’t have a long list of previously seen providers, how do you start the process of finding a provider?

Talking with people who can recommend a provider is always a good place to start.  Ask a respected and trusted family member or friend if they know a doctor who can help you.  It is also helpful to ask if your family or friends have had a bad experience with a provider.  This information is just as important to know. Their direct interaction with that recommended physician is a firsthand “review”, and this information is usually very reliable.

What this means for providers:  Treat all of your patients with kindness, patience, professionalism and compassion.  In most situations, the reason a patient has come to see you is because they aren’t feeling well.  They don’t want to be there.  They aren’t at their best.  They have reached the point where they need to feel better.  With this in mind, show your patients grace.  And know that this will pay off because your patient will come back to see you and will tell their friends and family why.  You are growing untold future patient possibilities because your happy patients will let others know how happy they are with the care you provide to them.

Doctors have a variety of specialties and expertise.  Why wouldn’t you want to be cared for by a doctor who has been trained to treat your specific medical condition?  And wouldn’t you want that physician to have treated many patients with a similar condition?  When you want to learn to play the piano, you want to be taught by someone who was trained for many years to play the piano.  Sure, someone who knows how to play the guitar can teach you a few things, but the trained piano player is specifically qualified to teach you piano.

What this means for providers:  Become an expert in your field.  Do your best to stay up to date on the most recent developments in your specialty.  Continue to learn about what’s happening in your field, and then share what you know with others.  This can mean writing blog posts for your practice website or social media or reaching out to community groups or the media to become a resource for them.

Asking your primary care doctor for a recommendation is also a good idea.  You should trust your primary care doctor, and if you don’t, you should find another.  Your doctor should be your partner in your lifelong health.  And because you trust your doctor, she is a good resource for all things medical.  She should be willing to help you with a recommendation or direct you to someone who can.  And because doctors interact with lots of other doctors, either directly or indirectly with hearsay from other doctors, they can be an excellent resource.

What this means for providers:  Nurture your relationships with other doctors.  Keep in touch with them.  Visit, call and email them a few times a year to check in.  Find out if there is anything your office can do to help their office whether that be with referrals or anything else. Send them a thank you note or small thank you gift for their support throughout the year.  The Thanksgiving time of year is a good time to show your thanks.  Think about what you would like a doctor to do for you and then offer to do it for that doctor.  Even a small gesture can make you stand out from the crowd and help your name come to mind when a doctor needs to make a recommendation. 

As a patient, you want to feel welcomed and appreciated.  You want to feel like you matter and that a provider wants your business.  And indirectly, these feelings translate to a feeling that your care matters to the doctor, too.  And while this may seem like a minor detail, it’s a big deal to patients for good reason.

What this means for providers:  Simply said, be nice.  Treat your patients like family and they will remain loyal to you and share their loyalty with others.  This also applies to ALL of your staff.  You could be the nicest person ever to your patients, but if your front office staff is rude or even indifferent, your kindness can be canceled out.  The entire patient experience in your office, from the parking lot to the check in desk to the actual appointment to the check out desk, needs to be compassionate, kind, friendly and attentive.

Knowing if a provider is covered under your insurance plan is important information.  Unfortunately, this is the reality of our current healthcare system and could be a factor in your decision to see a particular doctor.  This is especially important for major medical issues that can be costly.  Some patients, however, may be willing to pay out of pocket for smaller issues like physical therapy visits.

What this means for providers:  Share the insurance plans you accept on your website, in your office and any other place that would be helpful for patients.  And while this info can change, it’s important to keep this information updated for your patient’s sake.  For cash patients, offer reasonable out of pocket pricing and payment plans.  Not all patients can afford expensive care, but all of them want to feel better.  What can you do to make that happen for them?

How a provider engages with you during a visit is critical.  Yes, she should be welcoming and kind, but does she actually listen to you during the appointment?  Does she take her time or does it feel like she’s in a hurry?  Does she ask questions to truly get to the reason for appointment?  Is she patient with explanations and willing to repeat them?  Does she take an overall interest in your life because something that seems unrelated may be contributing to the health issue?

What this means for providers:  We all know a provider’s time is valuable and has lots of demands, but perhaps a bit more time with a patient will prevent a future appointment or a future phone call or email because their issue will be better addressed in the initial visit.  Time invested on the front end will likely mean less time needed later.  A great question a doctor can ask a patient at the end of an appointment — “Is there anything else I can do for you?”  If you have effectively addressed the patient’s needs, he is most likely going to say, “No, thank you”.   Not only are these nine words a great way for you to assess how you did in that appointment, they can also make a patient feel like they had some control of that time and the doctor was genuinely interested and responsive to what they needed.