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How To Get Doctors To Talk To You On The Phone: It's generally very hard to find out whether a doctor treats your particular problem or uses the procedure you need until you visit the office-a waste of your time and money, since you'll probably have to wait for the appointment and pay for the visit. See doctors for more information.
Instead: Try to get the information on the telephone. Obstacle: Most office staffs tend to overprotect doctors from such calls-even, on occasion, contrary to the doctor's inclination.
Trick: Refer to yourself on the phone as "doctor." It's amazing how that can open doors with medical professionals. Not all people feel comfortable with such deception, but given the payoff, it should be considered. Source: Susan G. Cole, editor of The Practical Guide to Cancer Care, Health Improvement Research Corp., New York.

Protect Yourself From Your Doctor: The best doctors are sometimes the ones with the poorest personalities. Bedside manner is not necessarily a relevant criterion. The prime do's and don'ts:
* Do ask questions. Many patients are intimidated by the doctor's professional status. Don't be. Ask your prospective doctor about his medical philosophy. Pose specific questions-for example, does he believe in taking heroic measures in terminal cases? Look for a doctor who is attuned to the patient/doctor relationship. Be wary of a doctor who puts you off, who takes a question as a personal affront, or who says things like, "Don't worry, I'll take care of it."
* Don't be impressed by the diplomas on the wall. Many are probably from organizations that the doctor joined for a fee. What you should know: Is the doctor board certified in his specialty?
* Do find out about the doctor's hospital affiliation. Is he on the medical staff of a hospital? Is it a local hospital of good reputation?
* Don't go straight to a specialist when you've having a problem. Specialists can be blind to any ailment that doesn't fall into their specialty. Have a generalist or internist assess your problem and send you to the appropriate specialist.

Verifying A Doctor's Credentials: Check the doctor's background in the Directory of Medical Specialists, available at most libraries. What to look for: Where the doctor served as resident (postgraduate training). Key: A residency at a prestigious hospital means more than graduating from a famous medical school.

When To Get A Second Medical Opinion: A doctor persists in saying the diagnosis is tentative or presumptive. Or, if the doctor requests more and more tests.
The patient's health does not improve.
An ailment is diagnosed as rare or as an emotional disease.
The doctor says the condition requires long-term treatment.
Surgery is recommended. The prognosis is unfavorable.
It is possible that in any of the above circumstances the doctor may be correct. No patient need be embarrassed in seeking another opinion, however, even if the doctor opposes it.

What To Ask A Surgeon: To protect against unnecessary surgery, ask
the physician hard questions beforehand.
What are the risks?
What is the mortality rate for this operation? How long will it take to recover?
What is the likelihood of complications?
What sort?
Are there ways to treat this condition medically?
How many people have you seen with similar symptoms who have chosen not to have surgery?
How many of these operations have you done in the past year?
Always get a second opinion.

When To Sue For Medical Malpractice: A medical malpractice suit is high-risk litigation. That means a vast majority (80%) of tried cases result in a verdict in favor of the doctor. Point: Consult a lawyer who is a specialist in the field. Unless the case involves a serious injury brought on by a doctor's negligence, it will be discouraged.
Finding an expert: Check with your family or business lawyer. From those names recommended, select a specialist with a demonstrably successful track record. Note: After the first consultation, the specialist should be able to give you an educated opinion on your chances of winning the suit.
Procedure: The lawyer will need supporting testimony by an experienced doctor to prove that your complaint was caused by negligence. Exception: If the negligence is blatant.
Pitfall: Prepare for perhaps years of psychological turbulence. Morality and credibility are often at issue. But the financial award can be substantial, particularly in urban areas where jurors favor plaifltiffs.

Costs: Cases are prosecuted on a contingency basis. Generally, you pay nothing during the course of litigation. With a favorable settlement, the attorney's fees and costs are taken off the top. Lawyer's fees vary from one third to 50% of net recovery. (Most states have contingency limits.)
If you lose: Traditionally, you owe the lawyer expenses (usually at least $5,000). If you can't afford the costs, your lawyer may bow out.

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