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Post-Polio Health (ISSN 1066-5331)

Vol. 17, No. 3, Summer 2001

Selecting a Physician

Sunny Roller, MA, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Frederick M. Maynard, MD, Marquette, Michigan

"The good physician treats the disease; The great physician treats the patient who has the disease." –Sir William Osler

Osler's words remind us that a doctor must focus his/her skills toward healing of disease and the promotion of health. The effective physician must also possess the knowledge and the skill to educate and motivate patients to achieve higher levels of wellness. In turn, being a wise consumer is a basic foundation for receiving good health care. Selecting an appropriate physician has become an important right and responsibility for people who believe they may be experiencing the late effects of polio. Once a physician has been selected, it is appropriate to take an active role in your diagnosis and treatment plan. You are the one who lives in your body. You are an expert, too.

Finding Your Physician

Choosing a physician requires great care and thoughtful consideration. Asking the following questions will help.

What is the physician's reputation? Talk to friends and acquaintances about their experiences. Try to get a feel for the level of medical care, time spent with the patient, and the physician's willingness to interact with the patient. Has the physician treated many people who had polio?

What is the physician's location/availability? Considerations include distance from your home, office hours, on-call hours, after-hours and vacation coverage, and hospital privileges. Is the physician's practice accessible to people with disabilities (parking, office entrances, examining tables, restrooms)? Are laboratory and x-ray services or rehabilitation team professionals' services located in the same or other convenient facility? How long must you wait for an appointment?

What are the physician's qualifications? Check with your local medical society. You can specify what type of doctor you are looking for by sex, specialty, age or location. Find out if the doctor is "Board Certified" or "Board Eligible." "Board Certified" means that he/she has several years of training in a specialty after graduation from medical school and has passed a national qualifying examination. "Board Eligible" means that the training has been completed, but not the exam. The local medical society can provide this information; however, these credentials do not guarantee competency. Other qualifications may include place of medical school or postgraduate specialty training, professional society memberships and staff membership at well-recognized hospitals.

Are the physician's services covered by your insurance plan and what are the fees? Ask if there is a "fee for service" office policy. This means that you are asked to pay for your visit at the time of the appointment rather than being billed. Determine if the doctor is a member of an HMO or other group health organization.

What do you want and/or need from a physician? What is the type of problem you think you have? Do you need an initial diagnosis or ongoing health care management assistance? Are you looking for a generalist or a specialist?

Evaluating Your Physician

After your initial visit to the physician, review the following questions to decide if you and the doctor can become "working partners" in your continuing health care management.

Is the physician's personality compatible with yours? Can you openly discuss your feelings and talk about personal concerns? Do you believe your doctor will stand by you, no matter how difficult your problems become?

Does the physician seem sincerely interested in you and your unique problems as a polio survivor? Are your concerns considered seriously? Has your past history been adequately considered? Is the physician interested in you as a whole person - your inner self and your lifestyle, as well as your physical self?

Is the physician willing to help you learn about your condition? Do you feel at ease asking your doctor questions that may sound "silly?" Does your doctor clearly explain the nature of your condition? Does he/she listen to you and answer all your questions about the causes and treatment of your physical problems, or is he/she vague, impatient or unwilling to answer? Does the physician not only diagnose the problem, but take time to discuss specific treatment options such as changes in lifestyle, referrals for adaptive equipment or choices in therapy, surgery, or medications?

Is the physician familiar with the literature available on the late effects of polio? Has the physician had sufficient experience and/or involvement with post-polio patients for you to have confidence in his/her opinions? Is the physician willing to learn more about the late effects of polio?

Is your doctor willing to refer you to others? Does your physician utilize the services of other health care professionals needed to manage polio's late effects – i.e., physical and occupational therapists, nurses, brace makers and/or social service and counseling personnel? Does the physician use a team approach in his/her practice? Will your physician discuss referral to post-polio specialists?

Is the office staff cordial and attentive to you? Does your doctor answer your letters or telephone calls promptly? Are you generally kept waiting for long periods of time when you have an appointment?

In cooperation with Michigan Polio Network, Inc.

Have you seen PHI's Post-Polio Directory?

See a constantly updated list of clinics and health professionals with experience with the late effects of polio, as well as support groups and resource persons and other useful resources.

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