'Speed-Dating' to Help Patients Find Doctors

A Constant Challenge

Finding a primary care doctor who is a good match is a challenge for many people when they move or otherwise have to switch doctors. Some patients need to see an additional specialist, such as an OB-GYN, a cardiologist or a neurologist, and many parents want more information before choosing their children's pediatrician.

But like the dating scene, any method is likely to have some drawbacks. Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York City, has written about the issue of finding the right doctor. He is skeptical that the speed-dating approach will be a panacea for patients trying to find a new physician.

"It's an overly simple solution to a complicated issue that will be a good fit for some people," he said. "You can't make that intelligent an assessment on the fly."

As with methods people use to find dates, he said, it will work marvelously for some and not for others. For example, he said, he often tries to help family members and friends find the right doctor, and despite knowing both and trying to match them, he only has about a 50 percent success rate.

"It's like setting people up on blind dates," Sepkowitz said of his method, explaining that "lots of happily married couples are blind dates."

Sepkowitz's optimal method for finding a good doctor is one not available to most daters, not monogamous ones, anyway.

"The best is still asking your friend who's got a good doctor that they like," Sepkowitz said. "I haven't really figured it out, it's quite mysterious."

Of the speed-dating method, he said, "It's unlikely to work for most people," adding, "There's nothing evil about it."

But Laura, who attended the Texas "speed-dating" event, said she is one of those who benefited from the format.

"I think every medical field should do that," she said. "It makes it so much easier on the patient instead of having to do Web searches and having to just luck into somebody."

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