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But "younger" doesn't mean a doctor who's just out of school. "In my view, the ideal primary care doctor is at least five years past residency," says John J. Connolly, Ed.D., president and CEO of Castle Connolly Medical, the company that publishes guides to the best doctors and hospitals around the country. That way, Connolly explains, the doctor would be up-to-date on the latest recommendations but also have some experience. And there's an added bonus: A younger doctor probably won't be retiring anytime soon.

* Conversational skills: When a doctor takes the time to talk to you, you're likely to feel more comfortable bringing up sensitive problems. And if he's spending time, he's more likely to give high-quality preventive care, reports a study from the University of Leicester in England.

How Many Have You Done, Doc?

Many studies have found that the key to successful surgical outcomes is the doctor's experience with the procedure. The hospital's experience matters too, says John D. Birkmeyer, M.D., professor of surgery at the University of Michigan; his research shows that, particularly with complex operations, patients fare significantly better when the surgeon regularly does the procedure and if a high number are performed at the hospital. There's no magic point at which practice makes perfect, but according to studies and/or expert opinion, these are the ideal minimum numbers:

PROCEDURE: Breast cancer surgery
IDEAL MINIMUM NUMBER: More than 15 a year, done at a hospital performing at least 125 a year

PROCEDURE: Gastric bypass surgery
IDEAL MINIMUM NUMBER: 100 total

PROCEDURE: Heart bypass surgery
IDEAL MINIMUM NUMBER: More than 160 a year

PROCEDURE : Uterine fibroid embolization
IDEAL MINIMUM NUMBER: 15 total, for an experienced interventional radiologist

PROCEDURE: LASIK (and other refractive eye surgeries)
IDEAL MINIMUM NUMBER: 1,000 total (at least 100 on women whose condition is similar to yours)

 

 

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