The following steps will help ensure that you get the best possible medical care and avoid being the victim of medical malpractice:

1. Your primary doctor –

best-medical-care-2The basis of good health care begins with your primary care or family physician.  Finding the best primary care doctor is essential.  Recommendations from family members or friends are generally a good place to start.  If you know someone in the medical field their recommendation should hold special weight.

The Arizona Medical Board is the licensing agency for all medical doctors.  Once equipped with a short list of potential primary care doctors research them online at www.azmd.gov.  There you’ll find  information about the doctor’s medical school, education and residency, as well as whether or not he’s had any complaints lodged or a medical malpractice judgment or settlement rendered against him.  The search will also indicate if he is board certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties.

The American Board of Medical Specialties determines if a doctor is especially qualified to practice in a particular specialty. Board certified doctors have voluntarily met the additional standards set by the Board.  Each doctor earns his/her certification by passing a written, and in some cases, an oral examination created and administered by the member board in his/her specialty.

The primary care doctor you select should be board certified in either internal medicine or family practice.

Experience cannot be overrated.  Primary care physicians learn on the job just like any other professional.  I recommend that you look for someone who has had several years of experience after their residency.

Finally, your primary care physician should be in close proximity to your home or work.  You may be less inclined to make an appointment for a lingering but significant illness if the distance from your doctor is too great.  Your chosen primary care doctor should also have at least one other associate who you can see in your doctor’s absence.

2. Diagnostic tests

When you first see your primary care physician for an illness or injury he will take a history and perform a physical examination.  Blood work and/or a urinalysis may be ordered.  An x-ray may be taken at the doctor’s office or at another facility.

Depending upon your primary care’s initial diagnosis he may order  more extensive diagnostic tests or refer you to a specialist who may then order those tests.  Additional non invasive tests might include an MRI, CT scan or a minimally invasive biopsy.  Many of these tests are subject to  interpretation by yet another physician.  For example, x-rays, MRIs and CT scans will be “read” by a radiologist while biopsies will be studied by a pathologist.

Occasionally mistakes are made when interpreting a diagnostic test.  For this reason the importance of second opinions cannot be overstated.  A positive test indicating that major surgery or other involved treatment is necessary warrants a second look by another physician.  On the other hand, a negative result may lead to harmful delay in receiving proper treatment.  Your overall health history and/or predisposition to disease or illness are critical factors in seeking additional tests and second opinions.

3. Specialists

Your family physician or other medical personnel may recommend you to a specialist for your illness or injury.  Ask for the names of two or more specialists to choose from and then apply the same research principles used in securing a primary care physician, including getting recommendations from friends and those in the medical community. Run the name(s) through the Arizona Medical Board to ensure that the doctor(s) in question is board certified in whatever specialty meets your particular needs.  It is a good idea to plan to visit with at least two doctors and if, after selecting one, he recommends surgery or other involved treatment protocol do not be afraid to ask for a second opinion!

When calling for an appointment it is entirely appropriate to ask for a copy of the specialist’s Curriculum Vitae (CV) which will give you much more detailed information about his medical training, articles he’s written that reflect his particularized interest within his specialty, etc. You’ll find that specialists often practice in large clinic settings with several physicians specializing within their specialty.  For instance, in an orthopedic clinic some doctors may only operate on knees, some on hips, some on shoulders, etc.  It is very important to find someone whose specialty meets your particular need.

In choosing the right specialist for your needs don’t hesitate to ask questions and take notes.  Discuss treatment options – is surgery necessary right now or is a more conservative approach more appropriate initially.  It is essential that you become an active partner in your quest for good health!

4. Hospitalization

You’ve asked your questions, taken notes and discussed options with your physician.  Surgery (or other invasive procedure) is necessary but where; which hospital?  Your physician may have privileges to practice at a variety of hospitals giving you several choices.  There are websites designed to assist you in researching your area hospitals – www.leapfroggroup.org, www.qualitycheck.org and Medicare’s www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov to name a few.

According to www.nationaljournal.com hospital-acquired infections are a leading cause of death in this country with estimates of nearly 100,000 lives lost a year!  Many of these infections occur in the catheter or ‘central line’ used to deliver medicine and nutrition.  An online search with the Medicare site will give you a hospital’s standing regarding infection rates as compared to other hospitals in your area.

Consider asking your physician if your surgery can be ambulatory or outpatient allowing you to go home the same day thereby reducing your risk of a hospital-borne infection.  A number of surgical procedures do not require hospitalization. Even if you require a ‘central line’ following discharge there are a number of reputable home health care services qualified to administer these catheters.