Now we get to the nitty gritty. Your head will still be aching from the hours spent deciphering health insurance policies (and your eyes watering at the costs)  but it was worth it. Your health insurance company and your location will define which medical care providers you can use, so its a process of finding out which ones suit you. You’ll be basing your initial search on recommendations from a variety of sources, but don’t assume that you will love all their choices. Find out for yourself.

Here’s what we are looking for.

    Someone that you feel comfortable with. It doesn’t matter how skilled your practitioner is, if you are unable to communicate well with them, those skills are useless. It’s the point of having a choice – so you can find someone you both like and trust. And yes, it really is that important – medical care is the life or death bit, remember.

  Excellent credentials. We don’t necessarily mean Ivy league schools, but do want to see a strong educational background with a range of professional placements at respected hospitals. Also, look for the depth of experience within the practice, and who they refer patients to for specialist treatment. In other words, look at the company they keep.. There’s no excuse – all the information that you will need (and probably plenty that you don’t!) is at the other end of an internet connection, so simply Googling your prospective doctor’s name will set you on the right track. Sites such as healthgrades.com and vitals.com will give you a good overview.

Accessibility. The best doctor on the planet is of no use to you if you can’t get an appointment, so call the surgery and see when the next available appointment is. If possible, visit the office, so that you can get an idea of how much parking is available, how helpful the reception staff are, and how long (and where!) you might have to wait. Needing medical care is stressful enough – so find somewhere that inspires confidence and calm, rather than adding to the pressure. And while you are there, pick up any paperwork you may need to join the practice, so if you do decide to go with them, you don’t have to make a return trip.

So how to find these paragons of healthcare virtue? The most effective way is personal contact. If you have current providers that you like, ask them for referrals or recommendations. Often there is a very strong specialist network that you can tap in to, and it makes the transferring of information a great deal easier. Once you are in location, start asking people who they use. It’s a win-win situation, as most people will have at least one healthcare provider that they are delighted with and are happy to refer, and providers are always pleased with this demonstration of satisfaction with their services.

If you think you might have found one that you would like to use, make an appointment to meet them before you have cause to use their service. Signing on with a new surgery is a labor intensive, time consuming process, and it’s worth making sure that you are happy with the whole office set-up before you commit to that process. The telephone wait, the office hours, the flexibility of the staff and your rapport with the doctors and nurses are all indicators of how smoothly your relationship will progress, and how your emergency will be handled when you are under stress and in urgent need of their services. They should be there to make things better, remember, not worse.