Finding a great primary care provider is important. But it isn’t always easy. From compatibility and availability, to insurance plans and office atmosphere, there are a number of factors to consider when choosing a provider.
For a little guidance, we asked a handful of Providence doctors to share their insight on what they personally look for when choosing a physician, and for practical advice on ways patients can find a doctor that best fits their needs and the needs of their families. Here’s what they had to say.
Dr. Gina Cadena-Forney, MD
Dr. Cadena-Forney practices family medicine at Providence Medical Group in Snohomish.
“For me, open communication is so important – as a physician and as a patient,” says Dr. Cadena-Forney.
“If you have something specific you want the doctor to do, be honest and tell him or her your expectations. Find a doctor who is willing to work with your beliefs and comfort levels – you never want to feel that you’re pushed to do something you don’t believe in or that makes you feel uncomfortable.”
Beyond the doctor/patient relationship, Dr. Cadena-Forney also suggests you ask yourself if there are additional factors that you require from your provider.
“Is the physician covered by your insurance plan? Is office location important to you? If so, find out if the office is conveniently located near your work or your home. Consider office hours: can you get in before or after work hours? If the doctor office closed, how do you get access to the physician? What happens after hours or on weekends? Is somebody on call? Will you have access to your doctor, for example, on a Saturday night if you have questions?”
“Also, how do you like the office staff? Are they friendly and personable? What about the nurses? Do you feel like they are people who care about you?” says Dr. Cadena-Forney.
“We are all part of a team. From the moment patients call to make an appointment to the time they see the doctor, a great provider should make their patients feel comfortable with everyone involved in their health care.”
Drs. Jonathan and Jennifer Kalisvaart, MDs
Jonathan is a pediatric urologist for Providence in Spokane, Washington. Jennifer practices pediatrics at Providence Pediatric Associates in Spokane.
Jonathan Kalisvaart, MD
“For our family, one of the most important things we look from in a physician is good bedside manner and a good listener,” says Dr. Jonathan Kalisvaart.
“In general, most doctors are going to be fine at what they’re qualified to practice, medically. So, for us, finding somebody who actually listens to what we’re saying, understands where we’re coming from as parents, respects our thoughts and interests – and is able to communicate to us our health care plan, what we’re doing or what we need to be doing – those are the significant characteristics we want in our physician.”
“Compatibility is also important to consider,” says Dr. Kalisvaart, “especially if you have an alternative view on a particular health issue. Your physician should listen to your perspective and work with you to try and negotiate the best solution.”
Dr. Kalisvaart also explains why it’s so important to find a doctor who makes you comfortable.
“You should be able to sit down and talk with your provider about all sorts of different, important aspects regarding your health – some of which are not easy to discuss. You need to find someone you’re comfortable talking with about the simple things. If you’re not at ease discussing something like, for example, your finger pain – talking with your doctor about more sensitive issues isn’t going to happen.”
Jennifer Kalisvaart, MD
“Along with word-of-mouth references, a good place to start finding a provider is by calling the office front desk,” says Dr. Jennifer Kalisvaart.
“When you call, describe yourself. Mention if you prefer a specific gender, age or if you’re interested in how long physicians have been practicing, or if you have a certain medical condition. Ask the front desk for their opinion and inquire who they think would be a good fit for you.”
Dr. Jennifer Kalisvaart also talks about what to do if you’re unhappy with your provider.
“Instead of leaving a practice outright, I would encourage families to try another provider within that practice. Everyone practices medicine differently. Even in a group of four or five providers, you may have four or five styles that are fairly similar, but different enough that you get along with one physician over another. Most providers understand this, too. I know I’m not going to meet the needs of everyone and some patients might be more comfortable with a different provider in the office. Families get worried that we’re going to take this personally. And, by no means is this the case. We want them to be comfortable.”
“It’s perfectly acceptable to seek out a new physician and most of us support this because, as health care providers, we want to meet the needs of patients as best as possible.”
Dr. Kasey Harbine, MD
Dr. Kasey Harbine is a hospitalist at Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, Montana.
“The qualities I look for include someone I get along with personally. I don’t want my doctor to be my best friend, but I want someone who has an empathetic ear, is a good listener, is someone I can trust. And, I really appreciate direct communication.”
But Dr. Harbine realizes not everyone is looking for these same characteristics in a doctor.
“In my position, I’m frequently asked to make recommendations. But, what I look for might not be what other people need from their physician. I always take this into account,” explains Dr. Harbine, who instead emphasizes the importance of word-of-mouth recommendations from the people we know best.
“Talk with your friends or family. If they have a physician that they like, find out why they feel compatible with that particular physician. Many times, we associate with people who are similar to us. So, if there’s a doctor someone close to you would recommend, I always think that is the first place to start your search.”
“Most importantly,” says Dr. Harbine, “patients should always feel empowered when it comes to their relationship with their doctor. There should never be anything standing the way of you making an appointment with your personal physician.”