What is the purpose of this guide?
This guide shares some ways to ensure you receive appropriate care. The information provided here is meant to help you:
- Learn important information about your physician
- Find out about your medical conditions and appropriate treatments
- Advocate for yourself and loved ones
- Understand the importance of having a doctor you trust
Who is this guide for?
This guide is designed to help all patients. This guide can help people who are:
- Looking for a new doctor, surgeon, or other specialist
- Looking for more information about their doctor
- Parents and caregivers
- Professional patient advocates
RESEARCH YOUR OPTIONS
Not everyone has the option to choose their doctor ahead of time, or there may be limited choices in some cases. Even if your choices of a healthcare provider are limited, the information provided here can still help you by informing you what to expect during an appointment, or where to find more information. It may encourage you to ask questions. When possible, research a physician’s history before you make your first appointment for yourself or a loved one. Here are some options to help you with researching:
While not all doctors are board certified, board certified doctors are required to meet nationally recognized standards that are above what is required for basic medical licensure. However, just because a doctor is not certified does not mean they are less able or qualified to care for you.
The American Board of Medical Specialties offers a website called Certification Matters, where you can enter your physician’s information and find out if your doctor is board certified.
INFORMING EXPECTATION & CHOICES
For some procedures or treatments, educational websites can tell you when and why doctors recommend them. Here are some resources that can provide you with trustworthy health information.
But be careful!
There are countless websites offering health advice online, many of which contain information that is outdated, inaccurate, or unproven. Online resources are not appropriate for diagnosing illness, and they should never replace a visit with a doctor.
Created by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, the Choosing Wisely website has many patient resources to guide choices on a variety of medical procedures, treatments, and exams—including pelvic exams and opioid use after surgery.
GET A SECOND OPINION
Talking to more than one doctor can be a good idea.
When you are not clear about your options, your diagnosis, or how well an expensive test or treatment will work.
Don’t worry about offending your doctor— second opinions are part of standard medical practice. Your doctor will want you to have the best information to make your decisions.
THE IMPORTANCE OF TRUST
Trust is the foundation of your relationship with your doctor. When you trust your physician, there are better health outcomes for you, your family, your community, and the greater public.
Personal Health Benefits
Patients who trust their doctors are more likely to take their medications as directed or follow a doctor’s advice about things like exercise, flu shots, or smoking cessation
Public Health Benefits
When groups of patients have more trust, they are diagnosed and receive care sooner because they are more comfortable seeking care and getting tested
Benefits to Science & Medicine
High levels of physician trust also encourage patients like you to participate in research that leads to breakthroughs in treating diseases such as cancer or diabetes
ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF AND OTHERS
Requesting or Serving as a Chaperone
When a doctor needs to perform a physical exam, you may request that a chaperone be present, even if you have a loved one with you. A chaperone is an individual whose role is to independently observe the exam or procedure and to assist the doctor-patient relationship. A chaperone may be a trained medical professional or a trusted loved one of the patient. Having a chaperone may make you feel more comfortable or prevent misunderstandings. A doctor should not refuse your request for a chaperone.
When acting as a chaperone for another person, make sure you understand what is routine and appropriate during intimate examinations. If the physician does not provide an explanation about what is occurring during the exam and why you have a right to ask. Patients should always be given an explanation for what is occurring and why during physical examinations. They should also be given privacy while undressing and provided with gowns or draping. Chaperones should reassure the patient if needed and respect the patient’s confidentiality.
RESPONDING TO ABUSE
Some patients have received unacceptable or illegal treatment from their healthcare provider. This includes cases of abuse, assault, or fraud. Experiencing abuse by a healthcare provider is rare– more than likely, your doctor is a good doctor. However, if you suspect or have experienced mistreatment, there are resources available to help you address the situation:
Are healthcare professionals who act as a spokesperson for patients and help guide them through the healthcare system. Many hospitals and nonprofit organizations employ patient advocates who can help you make educated health decisions, and may help you find financial, legal, and social support. The Patient Advocate Foundation website, or hotline (800.532.5274) can provide more information about what a patient advocate can do for you, and connect you with patient advocacy services.
State Medical Boards
Are responsible for investigating and enforcing consequences for physicians who fail to meet the ethical standards of the profession. Reporting serious lapses in professionalism, such as abusive behavior or assault, is the best option to ensure a bad-acting doctor is reprimanded and prevented from mistreating future patients. Contact information for your state medical board is listed on the Federation of State Medical Boards website.
- The American Board of Medical Specialties offers a website Certification Matters,where you can enter your physician’s information and find out if your doctor is board certified.
- Contact information for your state medical board is listed on the Federation of State Medical Boards website.
- HealthGrades.com provides information about physicians, including board certification, disciplinary actions, patient reviews, and more.
- As part of the Sunshine Act, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services offers their Open Payments Data website, where patients can see how much money a physician has accepted from corporations in the pharmaceutical & medical device industry.
- Created by the ABIM Foundation, the Choosing Wisely website has many patient resources to guide choices on a variety of medical procedures, treatments, and exams—including pelvic exams and opioid use after surgery.
- The Mayo Clinic website provides detailed information about many diseases, procedures, and treatments that can help inform your expectations before an appointment.
- The CDC website provides guidelines and recommendations for many drugs and procedures that can help you made educated choices about your care.
- If you’re not sure what questions to ask your doctor, the AHRQ website can provide templates for the kinds of questions you should ask your doctor before, during, and after your appointment.
- The Patient Advocate Foundation website can provide more information about what a patient advocate can do for you, and connect you with patient advocacy services. You can also call the Patient Advocate Foundation at (800) 532-5274.
- Reporting serious lapses in professionalism, such as abusive behavior or assault, is the best option to ensure a bad-acting doctor is reprimanded and prevented from mistreating future patients. Contact information for your state medical board is listed on the Federation of State Medical Boards website.
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This guide will be updated as new patient resources and new information become available.
All contributors are affiliated with the Bioethics Research Center at Washington University School of Medicine
Meredith Parsons, BS, CHES
Heidi Walsh, MPH, CHES
Tristan McIntosh, PhD
Erin Solomon, PhD
Jessica Mozersky, PhD
James DuBois, DSc, PhD – Principal Investigator
Meredith Parsons, BS, CHES
Patricia Curran, BFA
Bioethics Research Center (2019). Before Your Next Visit: Tips for Patients Seeking Medical Care. Bioethics Research Center at Washington University School of Medicine. Retrieved from: www.beforeyourvisit.org.