4 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Health Care Provider


Many Americans spend ten times longer searching for a new car than they do researching the right doctor.

Forty-two percent of adults take at least ten hours to choose the optimal automobile, but many people spend less than an hour investigating a potential physician, according to a recent report on hospital care quality by Healthgrades.com, an online provider of physician and hospital performance information.

It's a startling contrast, given choosing the wrong health care provider can be more devastating (both physically and financially) than being stuck with a vehicular lemon.

The overall quality of American health care appears to be getting better. But, dramatic differences still exist, even among providers and facilities located in the same area.

After examining the mortality and complication rates of common conditions in thousands of hospitals, researchers concluded that being treated in a high-performing facility may decrease a person's risk of complication by 42 percent and death by as much as 55 percent.

"This kind of information could mean the difference between a smooth surgery or complications, or even worse, life and death," says Archelle Georgiou, M.D., a healthcare expert and advisor to Healthgrades, in a press release, "Consumers should do their homework before becoming a patient."

Choosing the right doctor or hospital

In an emergency, you may not be able to pick which hospital an elder is taken to.

But when it comes to scheduled surgeries and ongoing care, you and your loved one will be faced with some important decisions.

Helping a family member select the hospital where they will undergo heart surgery or the doctor who will oversee their chemotherapy treatment can be a complex process.

How can you avoid "choosers remorse" when searching for a reliable care provider?

Here are four questions to ask before picking a doctor or hospital:

  • Are they accredited or board certified? This is the easiest way to tell whether a hospital or physician has met certain standards of care quality and safety. Hospital accreditation is administered by an independent accreditation body, such as the Joint Commission, and must be renewed on a regular basis. To become board-certified in a particular field (geriatrics, internal medicine, etc.) a physician must undergo additional training and examination in that specialty.
  • Do they have experience? Different providers have different areas of expertise. Is the doctor of hospital familiar with treating people who have your loved one's condition? What is their track record with that particular ailment?
  • What are other people saying? While the internet can be a good source of reviews and information on health care providers, your first step should be to seek the counsel of your friends and family. Do they have a doctor that they would recommend? Have they been (or do they know someone who was) hospitalized for a similar condition or procedure, with positive results?
  • Are they easy to talk to? Having a good rapport with a medical professional is critical to receiving quality care. There needs to be a certain degree of ‘chemistry' between doctor and patient (as well as between doctor and caregiver). Make sure that you and your loved one are comfortable communicating openly and honestly with a physician.
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Here are more suggestions:
1. Visit the nursing home at off hours. Are the patients being tended to? Are the aides helping or just sitting around?
2. Does the place smell clean? Any negative odors? If so, walk out the door and don't return.
3. Ask administrators, what is the ratio of caregivers to patients. There should be at least one aide to every 7 patients. More is better.
4. Now ask an aide the same question. Ask if she/he likes working there . I had my husband in a nursing home and heard so many aides complain that they only had "two hands", were very frustrated and angry, I transferred my husband to another facility.
5. Is there a happy feeling, activity, pet visits? All good signs. If everyone (staff too) seems bored or depressed, walk out the door. Choose another.
6. Be certain there are RN's on every unit.
Good luck. Sending a hug. Corinne