If you have a personal, longtime relationship with your cardiologist, you may be tempted to skip this section. Please do not. At some point, your cardiologist may retire. Or you may find yourself joining a health maintenance organization (HMO), or it may be that you may outlive your physician.
On the other hand, you may be uncertain that your current cardiologist is best for you. Perhaps you did not know you had heart disease, but, upon suffering a heart attack, you were assigned a cardiologist at the hospital. No matter what the circumstances are, since the doctor is the captain of your team, it is very important that he or she be top-notch. Do your homework. Choosing the right doctor may turn out to be the most important decision you will make. How long you will live and the quality of your life may well depend on it.
We are often asked, "How important is a doctor's personality?" That is hard to say. Skill should be your paramount concern. But if you are constantly at odds with your doctor, if you feel patronized, or uneasy for any reason, this is reason enough to consider finding someone new.
We are also asked if women should specifically seek out a female doctor. Because of the growing number of women cardiologists, this is becoming an option. We do not believe that male cardiologists should be automatically excluded because of their gender. There are a lot of very skilled, sensitive male doctors in practice. However if you would prefer a female doctor, you should feel free to seek one.
Choose a doctor who communicates well. Two-way communication is an essential part of keeping you healthy. You should never be made to feel stupid when you ask a question, no matter what it is. It is important to feel comfortable when you ask questions, and equally important that the answers be in terms you can understand. -
Your cardiologist should make you feel that your visit and your problems are the major focus of his or her attention, during your visit, you should be made to feel that your well-being is the most important factor in the world.
When you choose a doctor, you are also often choosing a hospital. Doctors have privileges. This means they are only permitted to practice in certain hospitals. If you need hospitalization, you will be admitted where your doctor practices. If you like the doctor, but you have reservations about the hospital where he or she works, that is a consideration. Trust your gut feelings. Sometimes, you may distrust a doctor for no particular reason, If that is the case, you probably will not be able to build the type of doctor-patient relationship you need. Try someone else. Remember, though, that doctors are not infallible. Do not 'doctor shop' without a cause.
If you are choosing a new cardiologist, here are some essential steps: Call your local medical society and ask for a directory or referral guide. This lists the education, training and sometimes the special interests of the doctors in your area.
Check the doctor's background. Look for degrees and documentation of training from the best medical schools and institutions. While this is no guarantee, it can be an indication of quality.
Ask the right people. If you have friends who are health professionals, ask who they go to and why. Hospital nurses have an excellent vantage point for seeing doctors in action.
||MAKE THE MOST OF THE DOCTOR'S VISITS
Too often, we await our visits with our doctor with anticipation, only to discover afterwards that we have forgotten to ask about the most important thing that was bothering us. In order to have an effective relationship with your doctor, you need to make every visit count. Here are tips on getting the most out of your doctor's visits:
- Keep your doctor informed. For example, if you have heart disease, you may very well suffer from angina. Tell your doctor if you experience more frequent or intense chest pain, or such symptoms as shortness of breath or bodily swelling. Too often, patients are tempted to keep such information to themselves out of fear or worry.
- Respect your doctor's time. Your doctor should respect your time, and you, in turn, should respect his or hers. Your doctor should not hurry you out of the clinic, but you should realize your doctor's time is limited as well. If you want your doctor's undivided attention to discuss a new, complicated course of treatment or lifestyle change, consider scheduling an extra appointment. This may be well worth the extra fee.
- If you are interested in getting your doctor's opinion on health news of interest, bring along the clippings. Resist the temptation to immediately call your doctor every time you find something of interest, unless you see something which seems very important, like a warning issued on a drug you are taking.
- Be pleasant. Remember, your doctor may be having a stressful day as well. If your doctor is continually rude or insensitive, consider another doctor. But an uncharacteristically, insensitive remark may signify nothing more than your doctor having a bad day.
- Consider your doctor to be responsible for your medical care, but do not blame him for events beyond his control. Sometimes, a course of treatment may fail despite everyone's best effort.
What you can do:
- Before your doctor's appointment, write down a list of your concerns and carry it along with you. Put them in priority; if you do not cover them all, ask your doctor if you can call or make a follow up visit to discuss the rest. Take a list of medications, too.
- Consider taking a family member or friend along with you to act as a 'listener'. It is sometimes impossible to absorb all the medical details about your condition and you might find that after you have left the doctor's clinic you have forgotten valuable information.
- Certainly ask questions, but do not have a full discussion of your health concerns while you are still undressed. It is impossible to feel empowered when you are sitting on an examining table almost naked.
||GET A SECOND OPINION (WHEN NEEDED
There may be several options and no clear-cut correct course for treating heart disease. So the time may come when you may wonder if a recommendation for, say, balloon angioplasty or coronary bypass surgery is the wisest alternative. Or, you may want to know more about your options.
Getting a second opinion can sometimes be a lifesaver. Here are some examples of when you might seek a second opinion. Keep in mind that these are only examples; the possible situations are almost endless. Consider seeking a second opinion if, for example:
- You are concerned about symptoms which seem cardiac
related, but your doctor brushes off your concerns.
- You are taking cardiovascular drugs, but your symptoms
are getting worse, and your doctor is not inclined to
- You have been told you need open-heart surgery, but you
are considered too old to survive it.
- You have been told that coronary bypass surgery would be
your best route, but you wonder if the possibility of less
invasive procedure, such as balloon angioplasty, has been
How should you find a doctor to give you that second opinion?
Some people believe that doctors tend to stick together, so someone recommended by your doctor is likely to be only a 'rubber stamp'. Others disagree. They contend that, since your doctor knows your medical problem best, asking that physician for a recommendation is only logical. Listen to your gut. If you are confident your doctor's recommendation will be objective, do so. If you are uncertain, follow steps for choosing a cardiologist as suggested earlier. (See section on "Choosing the right doctor").
So what if you got the second opinion and it is the opposite of the first? Experts can disagree. Since your heart is at stake, you may have to seek out a third opinion to be the tie-breaker. With three opinions, it is time to make a decision. Seeking a second opinion, (or even a third) if you are in a situation which calls for one, is one of the most essential things you can do to safeguard your well-being.
What you can do:
Check your health insurance policy. In the case of many cardiac procedures, second opinions are not optional, they are required.
In the midst of a health crisis, it may seem like too much trouble to begin doing the homework necessary to find the right doctor to offer a second opinion. Talk to a relative or close friend; they may be able to do this research on your behalf.