Features December 2007 Issue

How Do You Choose The Right Heart Doctor?

Often the best place to start is with a general cardiologist, who can then refer you to a specialist if necessary.

When you have a heart problem, the first thing to do is find a good cardiologist.

The place to start is with your primary care physician, says Curtis Rimmerman, MD, Cleveland Clinicís Gus P. Karos Chair of Clinical Cardiovascular Medicine.

"I think of the primary care physician as the quarterback," he says. "They work closely with local subspecialists to maintain optimal lines of communication."

Medical staff office

Alternately, Dr. Rimmerman suggests going to your local hospitalís medical staff office to obtain a listing of cardiologists. You can also go to your stateís medical licensing board Web site to access this information online.

"You can get an idea of a cardiologistís age, whether he is board- certified, and whether he has had any disciplinary action in the past or that is ongoing," Dr. Rimmerman explains.

Cardiac subspecialties

There are four main subspecialties in cardiology, which Dr. Rimmerman describes in lay terms as follows: plumbing (blood vessels); electrical (rhythm disorders); muscle (congestive heart failure); and valves (leaks and restricted openings).

Thus, if you have congestive heart failure, you should try to choose a cardiologist who specializes in the heart muscle. Many of these disorders often overlap, however, in which case you may want to start with a generalist.

Generalist helpful

"You can never go wrong with choosing a generalist, and he or she can always refer you to a specialist," Dr. Rimmerman says. "And if I were a patient who had a concern about my heart, I would not wait for a subspecialist. Going the general cardiology route tends to get you help right away."