In his new book "Surviving American Medicine," Dr. Cary Presant covers everything from finding the right health-care plan to being a good patient. The first step in making the most out of your health care is choosing a trustworthy doctor -- but where to begin?

 

"Don't just ask a hospital for a list of doctors," says Dr. Presant. "Once a doctor is on staff, they're on the list, good or bad. Talk to nurses, friends and family. Use the Internet to do a background check. If you have a disease, say breast cancer, go to a breast cancer support group and ask for referrals. Ask [those people], 'Who do you trust?'"

 

To get optimum care, Dr. Presant recommends fully engaging in the medical process with your physician.

 

"Ask questions," he says. "Say a doctor prescribes a new medication. Ask how effective it is, ask about the side effects and ask the doctor, 'What do you commonly see in patients with this medication?' Then ask him if this is the kind of treatment he'd give his wife or family member. That gives them pause for thought."

 

As the Affordable Care Act funnels more patients into a busy system, doctors increasingly feel overwhelmed and have less and less time to do their jobs effectively, Dr. Presant says. Being proactive is important. Prepare your questions in advance, and consider bringing a trusted family member or friend along for the ride.

 

"Write a list [of questions] before you go," says Dr. Presant. "Also, listen. Four ears are better than two. Take a family member with you to the doctor's office. They might hear something you don't."

And you shouldn't fear asking for a second opinion once you get a diagnosis.

"Any doctor who is reluctant to recommend getting a second opinion, that's a red flag," Dr. Presant says. "A good doctor will welcome that you get one."

Is your doctor in it for the money?

“Conflict of interest is a problem,” says Dr. Presant. “Ask your doctor if he’s hired by a pharmaceutical company as a consultant. Ask if there’s a generic drug that works as well. Ask if he’s tied by an insurance company’s regulations.”

Top hospitals in the nation

We had HealthGrades.com choose three procedures and tell us which local hospitals fared best in its "American Hospital Quality Outcomes 2013: Healthgrades Report to the Nation." Healthgrades based these numbers on mortality and complication rates from hospitals.