Choosing Your Gynecologist

Choosing Your Gynecologist

Why it’s Important to Find the Right One

Your gynecologist may be the most important partner in health you have. These days, gynecologists not only are called upon to maintain a woman’s sexual, reproductive and postmenopausal health, but also to act as her primary care physician – overseeing all her health care needs. That means your gynecologist must be broadly trained in all aspects of medicine, know which types of diagnostic and laboratory tests you may need, and recognize when you need a referral to another medical specialist.

Getting Started

Because gynecologists play such an important role in your health and well being – and because they play such a central role in one of the most private aspects of your life – finding the right one takes some time and planning. You might want to begin by asking a friend about her gynecologist and how well she likes him/her. But don’t stop there. You may respond to the same doctor differently, and if you do your homework, you may find that particular doctor is not as good as your friend thinks.

Before you begin your search, give some thought as to whether you prefer a male or female gynecologist. That will help you narrow your search and save time. Once you make that decision, use the following checklist to help find a gynecologist who is just right for you.

Checklist: What to Look for in a Gynecologist

  • Professional certification. First, you want to make sure your doctor is board-certified in gynecology. That means that they have passed the accreditation tests to practice in that medical specialty. Don’t make the mistake of thinking a physician who is board-eligible is also board-certified. Board-eligible means the doctor is qualified to take the test, but has not yet passed the test. Board-certified means the doctor is fully credentialed.You can check on your doctor’s status by calling the American Board of Medical Specialties at 1-800-776-2378 or at certificationmatters.org. This group allows the public to verify – free of charge – the board certification status, location by city and state and specialty of any physician. They will even provide you with a list of board certified physicians close to where you live if you give them your zip code. You can also check with the American Medical Association’s website at www.ama-assn.org to find credential information about licensed physicians.
  • Red flags: complaints or disciplinary actions. If the doctor has had any problems with his/her medical practice, you’ll want to know. To find out, contact your state medical licensing board. For the number in your area, look in your phone book under “State Government Offices – Medical Board.” You may also wish to check local court records to find out if your doctor has ever been charged with malpractice.
  • Call the doctor’s office. Pay attention. How the person on the other end of the line speaks to you can tell you a lot about the overall practice style of that physician. What’s more, if you get a busy signal repeatedly, that will tell you that you may have trouble reaching the doctor when you need to. Your first question should be whether the practice accepts your particular form of insurance. Next, ask to schedule an appointment. If they offer you an appointment four or more weeks away, that’s a signal that your doctor is probably too busy.
  • Getting to know you. If you’ve gotten this far, you may want to schedule an introductory visit. There’s a chance you may be charged for consultation time, but if getting the right doctor is really important to you, it may be worth it. Some things to talk about during your visit:
  • Practice style. Does the physician readily prescribe medications for problems, or adopt more of a wait-and-see approach? What’s the doctor’s experience with and attitude toward alternative medicine? If you are planning to have a baby, you’ll want to find out how your doctor approaches labor and delivery. If you are in midlife, your doctor’s opinions about hormone replacement therapy will be good information to have.
  • Attitude. Does the physician seem to encourage you to freely communicate, or does he/she seem too busy to listen? Does the physician make any effort to learn about your needs and concerns? Does he/she seem more like an authority figure or a partner? Finally, do you like the doctor? Remember, you. ll be discussing the most intimate details of your life with this person. Your gut feeling about the doctor is often what. s most important.
  • Meet the doctor’s partners. You may end up spending more time with them than you thought. Find out if partners are available when you doctor isn’t, or whether you will be referred to another medical practice. While you’re at it, find out what to do if you have an after-hours medical emergency and who will be available to care for you then.
  • Phone calls. Find out whether your doctor will take a phone call if you have a simple question, or whether you must come in for a visit. You may wish to find out if your doctor will respond to e-mail questions as well.

Making Up Your Mind

Now that you’ve done your homework, go ahead and make your decision. You can feel good that you’ve done everything you could to find a medical partner best suited to you. And remember, if over time you feel uncomfortable with your choice of physician, then find another. You’re in charge!

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