Consumers have largely been in the dark when trying to choose a new doctor. They might want someone who is skilled, pays attention to their concerns and makes it easy to get an appointment. Instead, with little information to go on, they pick someone out of a directory whose office is conveniently located.
But a new emphasis in family medicine on providing quality care and pleasing patients is giving consumers more to go on. They can find out basic quality information about doctorssuch as how well they provide preventive carefrom some insurers, state health officials and private companies such as HealthGrades. And a few well-placed questions about the way a doctor runs his or her practice can give consumers a sense of the type of doctor-patient relationship they'll haveand, to some degree, the quality of care they'll get.
"Times are changing, and people's expectations of what they want from their medical care has changed, and we as practitioners are changing," says Dr. Donald Klitgaard, a family physician in Iowa who, like doctors across the nation, has computerized his record-keeping, made it easier for patients to get appointments and helped his office staff become more efficient.
Odd as it may seem, simply calling prospective doctors and asking whether their office is computerized may turn out to be the best advice for finding a physician committed to patient care over the long term.
"The average consumer takes it as a given that doctors have these systems in place," says Peter Lee, chief executive of the Pacific Business Group on Health, an employer coalition based in San Francisco. "They don't know how much medical care today is not 20th century, let alone 21st century, in terms of how much doctors rely on paper instead of computers."
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