By Lorie A. Parch
Updated: September 15, 2008


1. She (or her staff) doesnt listen to you. Because communication errors are at the root of many mistakes, finding a doctor you can talk to isnt just a perk; its essential. Steer far clear of the physician who rolls his eyes at any mention of your Internet searches, dismisses your side-effect concerns, or cuts short your questions. You should also expect open airwaves from his staff. If youre always getting busy signals or you cant seem to get a nurse to call in your refills, “your health could be at risk,” says Nancy C. Elder, associate professor of family medicine at the University of Cincinnati.

2. His technology is in the dark ages. Just one-quarter of office-based physicians have an electronic health record (EHR) or electronic medical record (EMR), which maintains computerized patient files and can order tests and prescriptions digitally, so it would be unfair to rule out a doctor solely because he hasnt yet gone high-tech. But David Bates, MD, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, stresses, “You are less safe if your doctor uses a paper record.” Electronic records help prevent human errors and also flag missing tests, he explains. Bar-coding test samples and specimens can also help avoid lab mix-ups.

3. She forgets to contact you with test results even once. “When a doctor says, ‘Youll hear from us if its abnormal, thats a red flag,” cautions Richard Baron, MD, chair of the American Board of Internal Medicine in Philadelphia. “Patients should expect to receive communication about every test they have had.” To be safe, request a phone call from your physician and a hard copy of the result. When you get that call, ask, “Is this the final report or are ongoing tests being conducted on this sample?”

4. Other patients have complained. Check with your state or local board of health (some list judgments against physicians on their Web sites) and any specialty board-certifying organizations to make sure any doctor youre considering, as well as all of his partners, are in good standing. You should also check the American Board of Medical Specialties ( for board certification. If he is not board-certified or has had multiple judgments against him, move on.

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