Ten “Must-Ask” Questions for Your Physician
Be sure to make the following initial inquiries, either of your health travel agent or the physician(s) you’re interviewing. Note that for some of these questions, there’s no right or wrong answer. Your initial round of inquiry will help establish a dialogue. If the doctor is evasive, hurried, or frequently interrupted, or if you can’t understand his or her English, then either dig deeper or move on.
1. What are your credentials? Where did you receive your medical degree? Where was your internship? What types of continuing education workshops have you attended recently? The right international physician either has credentials posted on the Web or will be happy to email you a complete résumé.
2. How many patients do you see each month? Hopefully, more than 50 and less than 500. The physician who says “I don’t know” should make you suspicious. Doctors should be in touch with their customer base and have such information readily available.
3. To what associations do you belong? Any worthwhile physician or surgeon is a member of at least one medical association. Particularly in regions where formal accreditation is weak, your practitioner should be keeping good company with others in the field. For example, if you’re seeking cosmetic surgery in Mexico, your surgeon should be a member of the Mexican Association of Plastic, Reconstructive, and Aesthetic Surgery. It’s also a plus to see physicians who are members of, or affiliated with, American medical or dental associations.
4. How many patients have you treated who have had my condition? There’s safety in numbers, and you’ll want to know them. Find out how many general procedures your hospital has performed. Ask how many of your specific treatments for your specific condition your doctor has personally conducted. While numbers vary according to procedure, five cases are not good. Fifty or 200 are much better.
5. What are the fees for your initial consultation? Answers will vary, and you should compare prices with other physicians you interview. Some consultations are free; some are deducted from the bill, should you choose to be treated by that physician; some are a straight non-refundable fee. In any event, it pays to have this information in advance.
6. May I call you on your cell phone before, during, and after treatment? Direct and personal access to your doctor is foreign to the American experience. Yet most international physicians stay in close, direct contact with their patients, and cell phones are their tools of choice. When physicians aren’t treating patients, you’ll find cells or headsets glued to their ears.
7. What medical and personal health records do you need to assess my condition and treatment needs? Most physicians require at least the basics: recent notes and recommendations from consultations with your local physician or specialist, x-rays directly related to your condition, perhaps a patient history, and other health records. Be wary of the physician who requires no personal paperwork.
8. Do you practice alone, or with others in a clinic or hospital? “Safety in numbers” is a good bet on this front. Look for a physician who practices among a group of certified professionals who have a broad range of related skills. For example, your initial consultation might reveal that you need a dental implant instead of bridgework, and it just so happens that Dr. Guerrero down the hall is one of the country’s leading implantologists. Or, on a return visit, your regular doctor might be on vacation, but Dr. Cho who’s available in the clinic can access your history and records, check your progress, and help you determine your next steps.
9. Who’s holding the knife during my procedure? Do you do the surgery yourself, or do your assistants do the surgery? This is one area where delegation isn’t desirable. You want specific assurances that all the trouble you went through to find the right surgeon isn’t wasted because the procedure will actually be performed by your practitioner’s protégé.
10. Are you the physician who oversees my entire treatment, including pre-surgery, surgery, prescriptions, physical therapy recommendations, and post-surgery check-ups? For more extensive surgical procedures, you want the designated team captain. While that’s usually the surgeon, check to make sure.