May 8, 2000 -- How can you minimize complications in the delivery room, the operating room, or the doctor's office? Find a doctor who will be open with you. The best strategy is to ask frank questions about any previous lawsuits and the outcome, says Laurie Green, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist (ob-gyn) practicing in San Francisco. It may be uncomfortable posing these questions, and you must keep in mind that prior performance is no guarantee there won't be future complications. But just imagine what it would be like asking questions after something goes wrong. Here's a game plan to help you get started in your search:
- . Compare notes with reputable organizations. Whittle your list down to a few doctors, and contact your state board of medical examiners to verify their credentials. "You'll need to find out that your doctor is both board-certified and in good standing," says Michelle Bourque, a New Orleans-based defense lawyer with the American Bar Association who works with health professionals.
"Contact the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a member society that can also help you check up on your physician," says Bourque. Membership in a specialty society is an honor and requires that doctors fulfill certain requirements in order to belong. To become a member of ACOG, a physician needs to have graduated from a medical school approved by ACOG. He or she must have completed a residency program. And he must provide recommendation letters, proof of licensure, and verification of good standing. ACOG will provide a list of their members in your area or can verify whether your current physician is a member. You can visit ACOG's web site for additional information.
- Word-of-mouth referrals can also steer you in the right direction. "Ask your family, friends, and co-workers about the ob-gyns whom they've used," says Bourque. Some doctors may be willing to provide their own references from satisfied patients.
- Know your own preferences, then seek out someone who shares your views. Determine what you think is important about the birth experience. Weigh the pros and cons of optional or controversial procedures, such as episiotomies or the use of forceps. Then find out whether your doctor's views match yours.
- Do your own interview with a prospective doctor. Where did she go to school or finish her residency? How long has she been in practice? What emergency situations has she been in and how were those handled? You should also ask your doctor about her practice philosophy: How does she feel about her patients? How much time does she give her patients? But keep in mind that doctors -- especially those in HMOs -- see many patients. Just because she can't spend a lot of time with you at every visit doesn't necessarily mean that she isn't a good choice.
- Trust your instincts. Are you comfortable asking questions, and is the doctor comfortable answering them? Is she helpful? Does she explain things in a language that you understand? Remember: If you don't like your doctor at the office, how are you going to feel on the big day?
Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire way of knowing that you and your doctor are compatible. But you can arm yourself with useful information and remember that a little research can yield important results. You have a lot more say about who treats you than you may realize.
Shaina Johnson is an assistant editor at WebMD.