An OB-GYN, or doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, wears many hats. An OB-GYN can offer prenatal care, deliver your baby and provide postpartum care, perform surgeries, screen for cancer, issue birth control, guide you through menopause and more. A gynecologist specializes in your reproductive health alone – no babies. So, if you’re looking for the one who can cover the entire realm of women’s health, you’ll need an OB-GYN.
Because some of these health topics are sensitive and can be embarrassing, it’s an even bigger challenge to find a doctor with whom you feel comfortable. Many women feel strongly that the gender of their doctor is a huge deciding factor. Honestly, there’s no wrong way to go about finding the most suitable practitioner for you, but there are some points that will make it easier.
Ask the women around you. If you just moved to a new city, you can ask your co-workers for their recommendations. If you’ve already landed a general physician, or GP, whom you like, you can ask them for referrals. (Your GP can actually perform pap smears and breast cancer screenings for your annual checkup.) If you’re part of a mommy group online or in your neighborhood, use those women as the valuable resource they are!
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Find out what your insurance covers. Make a quick call to your insurance company or go online to check your account. You’ll be able to get a list of approved doctors in your area. Out-of-network practices will cost you an arm and a leg, so be careful!
No insurance? Look for prenatal programs. If you don’t have insurance, use a regular physician for your annual checkups or go through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program with the CDC and find a screening facility. Many hospitals will offer prenatal programs to pregnant women with their approved OB-GYNs and a fully disclosed payment option. You can look into getting maternity insurance if you can’t get Medicaid or traditional insurance.
Set up a time to talk. Most doctors’ offices will have new patient Q&A time, usually before the office opens for appointments. You’ll be able to sit and talk with your potential OB-GYN about what’s important to you and what they can offer. Come to this type of appointment prepared with questions and non-negotiables. For example, some offices require cervical checks in the last four weeks of pregnancies while others will only do it upon request. Some offices have multiple doctors, some you might like and others you may not click with so much. If you prefer one doctor, you need to know who will cover for that doctor in the case they aren’t available. Check out the office hours and after-hours policy as well as which hospitals they are affiliated with when it comes time for surgery or delivery. Click here to see if a doula would be a good addition to your healthcare team.
What’s offered within the office? Some offices have an all-in-one operation where you can have blood drawn and pick up a prescription. Those are rare, but very convenient. If the office won’t do blood draws, mammorgrams, X-rays, ultrasounds, and so forth in-house, take that into consideration. That usually means you’ll need to make another appointment and drive to another location for these orders.
What you need to bring to the table: Know your history. Bring your medical records from a previous OB-GYN, gynecologist or GP, including past pap smears, blood work and vaccines. Know what your cycle is like: number of days, type of flow, any PMS or mid-cycle problems. Be ready to discuss sexual activity, problems with intercourse, yeast or urinary tract infections, history of sexually transmitted infections or symptoms, number of pregnancies, miscarriages or abortions. The more your doctor knows, the better he or she can help you. Click here to see if your PMS symptoms are appointment-worthy.
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If in doubt, be confident that choosing a doctor does not require signing a contract. If you find yourself unhappy with the care, even 30 weeks into your pregnancy, you can bail and try a new office. You and your OB-GYN should be able to work as a team to keep your health in check.