Choosing Your Own Doctor
Jerome's doctor works in a brand new medical building with a large staff. He's efficient and no-nonsense, and Jerome likes that. His businesslike manner seems less prying or nosy when they're discussing personal stuff.
Chelsea is the opposite. She's more at ease in her doctor's homey brownstone office. And her doctor's warm, personal approach helps Chelsea feel more comfortable when the conversation turns to sensitive topics.
Do you connect better with a super-friendly doc or one who is all business? It depends on your personality. Doctors are as individual as we are.
Do I Need a New Doctor?
Our teens are a good time to start taking charge of our health care — and part of that means seeing a doctor we like. So what's the best way to go about finding the right doc for you?
First, consider how comfortable you are with your current doctor. Taking charge of your health doesn't mean you have to switch. Lots of teens prefer to see the pediatrician who has cared for them since they were babies. But you can't see a pediatrician forever. That's why some people decide to move on to an adult physician.
Another option may be an adolescent medicine doctor. These doctors specialize in teen issues — but, as with a pediatrician, you will still need to switch to an adult doctor later on.
Sometimes the decision to switch doctors is made for you: Perhaps your pediatrician no longer sees patients your age, or maybe you're moving to a new town. If you've been thinking how nice it would be to have a doc who is the same gender as you or who understands you better, now's your chance.
Find a Doctor You Can Talk To
The most important thing to look for in a doctor isn't an Ivy League degree or an office filled with fancy equipment. It's finding a doctor you feel comfortable with.
Of course, you want your doctor to know about the latest medical developments. Hospitals and state licensing boards require doctors to stay up to date in their field. But a good doctor also needs to understand your beliefs and concerns.
Do you have an interest in complementary and alternative medicine techniques? You'll want to find a doctor (and staff) who respects your values. The same is true if your concerns include very personal issues like sexuality.
Your health depends on your doctor getting to know parts of you that you think of as private. You need to feel like you can ask your doctor about anything, no matter how personal. Finding a doctor you connect with really is better for your health!
What's Important to You?
To find the doc who helps you feel most comfortable, start by making a list of the things that are important to you. For example:
- a doctor (or nurse) who is the same gender as you
- a doctor (and staff) who respects your views and beliefs and is nonjudgmental (e.g., able to deal with topics like sexual orientation)
- a doctor who is familiar with specific health issues or problems if you need it (e.g., sickle cell disease or achondroplasia)
- an office that's nearby or one you can get to easily
- a doctor's office that has appointments at times that are convenient for you (e.g., late afternoons or evenings)
In addition, you might want to ask questions to find out how the office handles emergencies or questions. For example:
- Who answers phone questions or handles emergencies on nights and weekends?
- If you need to go in when you are sick, will you see your doctor or someone else?
- Can you email the doctor with questions?
- How often does the doctor expect to see you for wellness exams?
These lists are just a starting point — yours may be different. After making your list, rank each item in order of importance.
Different Types of Doctors
Now you're ready to look for your primary care physician. There are lots of different types of doctors to choose from. Focus on the top items on your list and ask friends or family members who they use. Or ask your current doctor for a recommendation.
The last step is to check which doctors in your area accept your health insurance (or your parents' insurance if you're still covered by theirs). Most insurance companies offer a "find a doc" feature on their website. Or call the doctor's office and ask if they accept your insurance.
Making the First Appointment
It's time to contact your chosen doctor — or ask your parents to do so. Call and make an appointment for a regular checkup. (If you're not feeling well, it's best to see your current doctor if you can.)
Adult physicians get booked up quickly so you might not get a regular checkup appointment for several weeks or even months. That's OK — you'll need to request your medical records from your current physician and that can take a couple of weeks. If you see several different kinds of doctors, ask them to write a brief summary of your medical care instead of just requesting your whole record.
Sometimes doctors aren't taking new patients. So it helps to have a list of doctors you're interested in seeing in case your first choice doesn't work out.
The First Visit
At your first visit, you'll want to be prepared with questions. It can help to bring a list with you, since it's easy for anyone to become forgetful when they're in the room with the doctor.
If you're embarrassed to ask certain questions, give your written list to the doctor. This is a good time to get used to talking about personal stuff, though: The doctor has probably seen or heard whatever you're worried about many times, and just wants to help. The human body — even the most embarrassing stuff — is all medicine to a doctor.
Asking questions is about more than getting answers. The way your doctor or nurse responds helps you find out whether he or she explains things in a way that's helpful.
Another good test of how easy it will be to communicate with your doctor and nurse is to ask them to repeat something — like instructions on taking a prescription or a diet you need to follow. You need to be sure your medical team is patient and wants you to understand rather than rushing you. Or ask the doctor if you can record instructions so you can play them back later to be sure you got everything.
Bring your health records from past doctors' offices to your first visit. (Or have your former docs send them ahead of time.) The doctor needs to know how you've been growing, what vaccines you've had, and about any illnesses, medications, and allergies.
Talking of health records, this is a great time to start managing any medical conditions you have, including keeping track of when prescriptions need to be refilled.
Parents and Other Entourage Types
If your parents know you want to see a new doc, they probably realize you want to be in charge. This is a good time to talk to them about spending time alone with the doctor, or even going to the doctor's office on your own if you're old enough.
If your mom or dad is in the room for part of the visit, answer as many of the doctor's questions as possible yourself, rather than waiting for your parent to speak up. The doctor wants to know how you're feeling and what's going on with you, not what a parent thinks you're feeling. Sometimes parents have a tendency to jump in. Most of the time they don't mean to take over. They're just so used to answering questions because they've been doing it since you were a kid.
If you feel like you can't answer a doctor's questions honestly while someone else is in the room, tell your doctor what's really going on once you're alone. Most doctors understand that teens need time alone with a doctor, and many will ask parents to give the two of you private time.
Switch and Switch Again?
Did you find a new doctor only to realize after a few visits that he or she isn't what you expected? You're not locked in — switch again. It's important to find someone you trust, feel comfortable with, and can develop a close relationship with as you get older.
With all the changes going on in your mind, body, and life, your doctor will be a valuable resource for years to come. So naturally you want someone you can connect with and stay with for a long time. There's really no better place to turn when you have concerns about health than a doctor who has known you for a while.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: March 2014
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