Choosing the Right OB/Gyn

Last Editorial Review: 1/30/2005

Questions to ask before picking an OB.

WebMD Feature

Whatever phase of life a woman is in, from her teens to menopause, she's likely to have intimate discussions with her gynecologist or obstetrician. Finding a doctor you trust isn't always easy. And when you move or your health insurance changes, finding a new doctor can be tricky and time-consuming.

Physicians who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology are focused on women's health, including prenatal care and birth. Many insurance plans allow women to select an obstetrician-gynecologist as their primary care doctor. Other plans, though, require your primary care doctor to be an internist or general practitioner, and require you to get a referral in order to see an ob-gyn.

Your Values or Mine?

Before choosing a new doctor, consider the results of a new study reported in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology. Researchers found that how your health care provider lives her own life affects the medical care you receive -- and perhaps even the suggestions you get about contraception. Erica Frank, M.D., M.P.H., of Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, examined contraceptive use by female physicians. One of Frank's findings was that female physicians were more likely to delay their pregnancies, and were more likely than women in the general population to use contraceptives.

But don't choose solely by gender, suggests William H. Parker, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Santa Monica/UCLA Medical Center. "Consider his or her levels of skill, kindness, and compassion, combined with his or her personality." If you're uncomfortable with the treatment you're getting, he adds, you shouldn't be afraid to change providers.

Twenty Questions

To find a new ob-gyn, Parker suggests calling a nearby reputable hospital and asking to speak to the head nurse in either obstetrics or gynecology, depending on your needs. Then explain your situation and ask for a recommendation. According to Parker, "Nurses see doctors at their best and worst. If you find a nurse who's willing to make an honest recommendation, you'll be in good stead."

To be a well-informed patient, you need -- and have the right -- to know certain things. Here are some general questions you can ask once you arrive for your appointment:

  • How long have you been in practice?
  • When and where did you receive your training?
  • Are you board-certified?
  • Why did you decide to become an ob-gyn?
  • Are there any patients I may call, as well as medical colleagues, for references?
  • What tests do you usually perform on a woman with my background (age, history, etc.)?
  • Do you return calls personally, or will the nurse or receptionist do the callbacks?

Your Individual Needs

If you're choosing your first ob-gyn, you might ask what type of birth control the provider uses and his or her philosophy on safer sex. If you're approaching your childbearing years, you could ask about how many babies she delivers, whether she's a parent herself, and with whom she shares on-call duties. And if you're just beginning menopause, you might want to know his philosophies on hormone replacement therapy as well as complementary medicine.

You can also check up on the doctor by contacting your state's medical board; often the board will release information through a Web site or toll-free number.

According to nurse practitioner Anita Levine-Goldberg, "There's nothing wrong with interviewing a provider during your first appointment." Levine-Goldberg, who is a representative to Kaiser Permanente's Nurse Practitioner Committee, Northern California, adds, "It's good practice to pose a specific question about your ob-gyn needs and then see how the provider responds. You have to feel comfortable with your doctor or nurse practitioner in order to get the quality care you deserve."

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