When it comes to finding an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN), you might consider many factors in addition to qualifications and expertise: age and life experience, location and office hours, personality, and more. But there’s one quality that everyone should look for: trust.
Whether you’re planning or beginning a pregnancy or just trying to stay current with checkups and screenings, your OB-GYN is a valuable ally throughout your health journey. You want to be comfortable talking openly and asking questions about the full range of women’s health and reproductive issues you may face — and have no doubts about the guidance and care you will receive.
Dr. Sonia Aneja, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist at Allegheny Health Network (AHN), notes that “trust” has several components. “Finding a doctor you trust doesn’t only mean they’re easy to talk to,” she says. “Although that’s important, you also want to trust your doctor’s qualifications, you want to trust that they keep up to date with the scientific evidence on what works and what doesn’t, and you want to trust that they’ll listen to you and communicate in a way that helps you make good decisions.”
For many women, it may be important that their OB-GYN shares certain values or an approach to women’s health. For example, if you’re strongly invested in natural childbirth, you’ll want a doctor who is well-versed and supportive of that approach. Contraception and family planning is another area where you want to feel confident that your values are respected and the doctor supports your decisions.
That doesn’t mean patients and doctors need to have all the same views outside the office. “It just goes back to trusting that your doctor will support your choices,” she says. “From my perspective, whether it’s gynecology or family planning, the most important thing is that the patient has agency and is well-informed and well-educated so she can make the right decisions for herself. I believe that patients should have control over their reproductive lives, and our job as doctors is to help guide them through their options.”
When you think about choosing someone who will be your go-to for your most intimate health questions, it’s understandable that the choice can feel a little overwhelming.
But remember, it is your choice. Think about what’s most important to you, and give yourself time to select someone you’ll feel good about. It may help to break down the search into steps.
Different women value different things in an OB-GYN. So a good first step is to prioritize what aspects of care or qualities in an OB-GYN are most important to you.
Some priorities may be obvious. If you’re pregnant, or planning to get pregnant, you’ll want to find a doctor who specializes in obstetric care. If you have a history of pre-term or high-risk births, you’d also want to seek out a doctor who is experienced in managing high-risk births and is knowledgeable about maternal-fetal medicine. The resources of the hospital where you will deliver are also important.
But don’t overlook less obvious qualities that are part of a good match. For example, if you put in a lot of work hours, an OB-GYN with after-hours availability or a location near your workplace may be high on your priority list. Conversely, if your priority is to go to a female OB-GYN, you might be willing to drive further if necessary to see one.
“Some women may prefer an OB-GYN with similar life experiences,” says Dr. Aneja. “Gynecology exams can be awkward, so it’s important to find an OB-GYN that you feel personally comfortable with.”
As you begin researching in-network OB-GYNs, your list of priorities will make it easier to zoom in on those who are your best matches.
If you’re a Highmark health plan member, a good way to get an initial list of in-network providers is to use the online provider search tool on your member website. If you’re in western Pennsylvania, you can also use the “Find a Doctor” tool on the Allegheny Health Network site (ahn.org). No matter where you are, to manage costs, be sure to limit your list to OB-GYNs who are in-network for your health plan.
Whether you use tools like those above, do general online searches, or use another directory or the Yellow Pages, gather the information that is valuable to you.
“Keep in mind that OB-GYNs have different niches,” Dr. Aneja points out. “I have six partners and I can tell you what each person is best at and most interested in. So, think about where you are in life, and what you’re looking for, and that can help you make a good choice — and help health care professionals direct you to the best person.”
Another aspect of finding an OB-GYN you’re comfortable with — personality and communication style — can be more difficult to figure out. An online search may turn up articles (and blog posts) that a doctor has written or been quoted in, videos, community events or causes they participate in, and other useful information. Highmark health plan members in some regions can also meet multiple in-network doctors in person at Meet Dr. Right events. (Check out the Meet Dr. Right website to find events near you, and learn more about the events in our blog article.)
You can also reach out to friends, family, a primary care provider or others you trust to get a glimpse into a doctor’s personality and approach. When asking for a personal recommendation, just be sure to mention what you’re looking for — a friend saying “I love my OB-GYN” is a good sign, but what they love may or may not be what matters most to you.
“Medicine these days is all about choices — it’s moving away from the paternalistic model where the doctor tells you what to do, and focusing on informed, shared decision-making,” Dr. Aneja says.
In other words, as you choose an OB-GYN, or any doctor, don’t think only about personality or style. “You don’t want someone who has great qualifications but you don’t feel a personal connection or level of trust,” she says. “But a ‘perfect fit’ in personal ways won’t be the best choice for your health if a doctor isn’t highly qualified and committed to practicing evidence-based medicine.”
She said one downside of seeing patients as “consumers” is that it may encourage the mindset of “shopping” until you get whatever you want — but your doctor should be helping you get evidence-based medicine, not “wants-based” medicine. To illustrate this, she suggested imagining a woman who suffers from menstrual cramps and reads a blog post about using Percocet to relieve the pain.
“If that patient comes to me and says her cramps are unbearable and she wants Percocet, I’ll tell her that studies have shown that isn’t an effective treatment, plus there are side effects and the risk of addiction,” Dr. Aneja explains. “Then we’ll look at other options that are more effective and safer according to the evidence we have, including my own experience with patients. If we have that trusting relationship, we work together and find the healthiest approach to help her feel better.”
In other words, she says, “choose a doctor you’ll trust to give you choices, but also one you’ll trust to guide you away from anything that’s unsafe or ineffective. What’s best for your health — that’s really what you want to drive the decisions.”
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