Finding a good doctor is much like finding the right auto mechanic: what sort of service suits us best and how do we tell good from bad?
Medical services offer everything from major surgery to routine check-ups. First, ask yourself what sort of doctor and treatments setting are suitable to you.
Traditional medical services are provided using a cottage industry model, with small solo or group practices located on suburban street corners, high streets and shopping malls. These doctors tend to be sole or partnered owners of these practices—often for their entire careers.
Large corporate medical practices entered Australia around 20 years ago and have grown to account for nearly 30% of general practices. These clinics offer GP services in addition to pathology, radiology, pharmacy and alternative medicine and sometimes operate 24 hours a day.
However, some medical centers do not meet the needs of those who wish to spend more time with their GP; for example, patients with serious illness, a chronic condition or a range of concerns. For these patients, continuity of care, such as seeing the same doctor every time, is important. For patients who prefer to make an appointment a few days ahead and specify a consultation period time, seeing a doctor in a traditional setting would be desirable.
Once you have considered the type of practice you want to visit, it’s time to choose between the practices themselves. As with any specialist service, such as plumbing, it isn’t always easy to tell the good ones from the bad ones. But when it comes to health doing this becomes extremely important, and in some cases it’s a critical decision.
A doctor’s qualifications usually follow their name on official documents, like their business card. All Australian-trained doctors must have a medical degree. In most cases, this is an MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery). Doctors trained at Flinders University of South Australia are awarded a BM, BS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery). Graduates of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales are awarded an equivalent BMed (Bachelor of Medicine). Doctors who trained in other countries may have different qualifications, such as an MD from the United States. If you are unsure, then enquire with the staff or doctor, who would be delighted by your interest.
In addition to their basic qualifications, doctors may also have a specialty qualification, like membership of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). To gain such a qualification, doctors must pass a series of exams in postgraduate general practice education. New GPs do not qualify for Medicare payments unless they have a specialty qualification. Although this is not required of older doctors, they must undertake continual training to stay registered.
Many GPs have a specialty qualification, such a diploma in obstetrics or paediatrics. This would be a consideration if you have young kids or if you’re a woman in her reproductive years.
Some GP clinics specialise in providing certain types of services, such as travel medicine or weight loss, which are openly advertised. Although advertising doctors’ services was once prohibited, since the 1990s, doctors’ surgeries can advertise just like any other business.
A clinical practice that is clean, pleasant, well-lit, and spacious sends a signal to patients that the doctors value their patients’ comfort. As stated by Hippocrates, the father of medicine “Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.” If the waiting time is short and you can easily get an appointment, then that is good in the immediate sense. However, a high demand for appointments and long waiting times may indicate that the doctors’ skills are highly valued and in demand and justifying the wait.
Women may want at least one female doctor in the practice. For patients from non-English speaking backgrounds, doctors with other language skills are clearly important. That happens with Spanish speaking patients but also with other minor nationalities such as Portuguese, Italian, and so on.
There is no independent rating system for doctors and practices, but there is an accreditation scheme administered by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Practices that meet those standards receive an accreditation for display in their reception areas.
Get a recommendation
Word-of-mouth is also a great way to find a good GP, especially when recommendations come from someone who has similar needs; for example, someone else with small children or caring for an elderly relative. Pharmacists, nursing staff and other medical professionals are also good sources for recommendations. Good specialized doctors are often also referred by more generic doctors and family doctors.
Beside word-of-mough methods, another useful way to look for a GP is by searching online is another good way. Most of the sites out there provide deep info about doctors’ background, as well as review and in some cases even rating systems.
There is no obligation to go back to any doctor if you are not satisfied. Doctors who are generous with their time are a good find. A typical standard consultation should be 10 to 20 minutes. A doctor’s communication skills can be at least as important as their medical skills. Ask yourself: “Are they a good listener? Did I understand what they said?” Be alert too unnecessary prescribing. Many conditions don’t need to be treated with drugs: a good GP won’t dismiss you off with a handful of prescriptions.
Beyond asking questions, a GP should perform a physical examination, such as taking your blood pressure, listening to your chest, or examining a sore throat. They should ask about other conditions or problems you have had in the past or may be having, in addition to the reason for your current visit.
By doing your own research and asking the right questions, you will find a doctor that meets your needs. Remember, your health is valuable and worthy of the time spent seeking the quality and style you require.
A great place to start your search for the right doctor in Australia is the website: http://www.specialistdoctors.com.au