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Choose a Doctor

Updated on October 24, 2010

Choosing a good family doctor is vital decision

When moving into a new area, speak to neighbors and friends to see which doctor in the area they recommend. Do not rely entirely on their advice though, because doctors are human and personality clashes can occur. The GP that your neighbor can relate well to may not suit you at all. Once you have received these recommendations, visit the doctor for a routine matter so that you can assess her/him yourself. Can you communicate easily with him/her? Also check the surgery hours - do they suit you? What about after-hours cover - is it what you want? Are the surgery premises comfortable and relaxing?

Other factors you may wish to consider are the doctor's affiliations. Is he or she a member of the Australian Medical Association? Only about two out of three doctors belong to the AMA, but those who do agree to abide by a very strict ethical code, and the AMA may be able to help you if you have any problems with your doctor. The AMA cannot act in any way against doctors who are not members.

Is the GP a fellow or member of the Royal Australian College of  General Practitioners? This academic college encourages excellence in general practice, and doctors who belong pledge to keep up to date with the latest advances in medicine. Those who are fellows of the college have undertaken further study in general practice, have passed a very strict set of exams, and have been in practice for a minimum of five years. Only 15% of Australia's GPs have this qualification, but the percentage will increase dramatically in the next few years with the introduction of incentives for further training in general practice. Look for the letters FRACGP after the doctor's name.

Once you have decided to use a particular doctor as your GP, let her/him know, so that appropriate files can be transferred from your old doctor and a good rapport can be established between you.

Getting the most from each visit to a doctor is also important. Any consultation will start with the doctor asking you in one way or another 'What is wrong, how can I help you?' Having a logical answer to this question, and being able to outline your problem concisely and simply helps both you and the doctor. Wisecracks such as 'You should be able to tell me that' or bland generalizations such as 'I'm not well' don't help anyone.

Most people have questions they wish to ask, but forget to ask all of them. Make up a list, and make sure that you have all your questions not only answered, but answered in a way that you understand. It is very easy for a doctor to use words or terms that you may not understand. If this happens, let him/her know.

If you don't get better with the initial treatment, it is far better to return to the first doctor than to start shopping around. Humans are not like machines, and they do not all react in the expected way. If problems arise, the original doctor will probably be in a better position to sort them out, rather than confusing yourself with a multitude of opinions and treatments from several doctors.

And finally, if you are not happy with a doctor, tell him/her so. Many a misunderstanding can be sorted out this way, and even if you do change doctors as a result, both you and the doctor may learn something to your mutual benefit if problems are brought out in the open.

Finding the Right Doctor

Doctors must be in continual contact with their colleagues, and must exchange medical information freely in order to learn new techniques and better manage their patients. If a patient wishes to change doctors, he or she has a perfect right to do so. The correct procedure is for a patient to notify the present doctor (by mail if preferred) that he or she wishes to change to a new doctor. Relevant information can then be sent from the old doctor to the new one, so that there is no gap in care or confusion regarding the patient's case.

It is unethical for a doctor to hold himself/herself out to possess skills in a certain direction that he or she does not possess. For this reason, state medical boards regulate who can and cannot call themselves a specialist in certain areas of medicine that require higher levels of skill (e.g. surgery, obstetrics).

Doctors must not use the media or other methods to promote themselves as being better than other doctors in order to attract patients. As a result, most media doctors use a pseudonym to maintain their anonymity and therefore do not run foul of the ethical rules. If doctors were permitted to promote themselves in this way, the doctor most able to manipulate the media or to pay for the biggest advertisements would attract the most patients, and not the doctor best able to care for the individual.

Dichotomy is the splitting of medical fees between two doctors, and it is considered to be one of the worst possible breaches of medical ethics. An example of dichotomy would be the specialist who paid a GP to refer patients to him/her.

Any patient who is concerned about the ethics relevant to their particular circumstances should first discuss the matter with their own general practitioner, or they may be referred to a member of the ethics committee by the state AMA branch. Complaints about doctors can also be taken to your state Department of Health, and complaints relating to doctors in public hospitals can be taken to the Ombudsman.


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