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Finding a cardiologist

It's important to find a good doctor when you are living with heart disease

finding a cardiologistFinding a cardiologist - the right cardiologist for you - is part of living well with heart disease. You need to have complete trust in your specialist.

Heart disease can rob you of your confidence. Having a good doctor can help you regain not only your health but your confidence too.

Initially, you may be referred by your family or primary care physician or you may be assigned a cardiologist when you present at the hospital with an unexpected heart event.

If the cardiologist has a good reputation and the "chemistry" between you works, you may not need to search any further. But if the fit isn't right, you will want to take some steps to find a good doctor.

The right fit

What do we mean by fit? It's having a doctor you can relate to, a doctor you trust and who satisfies your level of need for attention, information, and responsiveness. When it comes right down to it, personal rapport is nearly as important as credentials.

How is your interaction with the cardiologist?

  • Is he/she willing to take the time to answer your questions?
  • Are the answers provided in easy-to-understand language?
  • Does he or she inquire about your family history and lifestyle, and not just your immediate symptoms?
  • Does he or she explain your condition and proposed treatment to you thoroughly?
  • Does he or she seem to trust your instincts and perceptions of your health?

Depending on how involved you like to be in your own care will also influence your choice of doctor. In my case, I like to have everything explained to me thoroughly. I like to receive copies of all reports such as blood tests, echocardiograms, and correspondence with my family physician. I keep everything in a binder so I have a complete history. This proved extremely valuable when I was in and out of the hospital during the first year that I had heart disease. And as time passed, it was also helpful when I couldn't remember specific details. It's all in my binder.

So if I had a cardiologist I was not comfortable with, or who didn't provide me with the level of information I require, I would definitely be interested in finding a cardiologist that better met my needs.

Finding a cardiologist - What can you do?

First, you can talk to your family doctor and request another referral. If you know of a doctor recommended by friends, family, or colleagues, ask your doctor to refer you to that physician.

You can check out directories such as The American Medical Association Directory which lists doctors in the US, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and some Pacific islands.

Other online directories include:
Cardiology Channel MD Locator
WebMD Physician Directory
In Canada you can check out the Directory of Fellows of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons to locate cardiologists in your area.

Some hospitals and heath regions have information lines and/or websites that can supply you with a list of cardiologists.

Note that directories and websites are helpful in finding a cardiologist but they won't give you any information about the potential for a "fit." That's something you can only assess after meeting with a doctor.

What to look for in credentials and experience

Simply put, a cardiologist is a doctor who is trained and certified to diagnose and treat disorders of the circulatory system and the cardiovascular system — the heart, arteries, and veins - including heart failure, heart attack, cardiomyopathy (disease or disorder of the heart muscle), and high blood pressure.

Cardiologists complete medical school and postgraduate training, then, for an additional three to five years, cardiologists study conditions specific to blood circulation, blood vessels, and the heart. Today, not only must a cardiologist be very familiar with anatomy and physiology, but also with modern computerized diagnostic equipment.

A cardiologist must be proficient in the following:

  • Evaluating and managing coronary artery disease and its manifestations and complications including arrhythmias, hypertension, cardiomyopathy, valvular heart disease, pericardial disease, pulmonary heart disease, including pulmonary embolism; peripheral vascular disease; cerebrovascular disease; heart disease in pregnancy; adult congenital heart disease; and cardiovascular trauma.

  • Managing acute and chronic congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) and other acute ischemic (insufficient supply of blood, usually due to a blocked artery) syndromes, acute and chronic arrhythmias, preoperative and postoperative patients, cardiac transplant patients, and geriatric patients with cardiovascular disease

  • Diagnostic techniques, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), fast computed tomography, positron emission tomography

    Cardiologists can be certified in various sub-specialties that may be important to you depending on your specific condition.

  • Interventional cardiology - such as catheterization (angiograms), balloon angioplasty, stent insertion, and the use of various cutting and laser devices that remove plaque from arteries.

  • Electrophysiology - the treatment of the electrical system of the heart - specifically in the treatment of arrhythmias and the implantation and use of pacemakers and defibrillators.

  • Nuclear cardiology - expertise in using this technology to assess the pumping function of the heart, the presence of blockages in coronary arteries, and the degree of damage to the heart.

  • Echocardiography - interpretation of and performance of echocardiogram and transesophageal echo procedures.

    How many years of experience does the doctor have? How much experience do you need them to have in order for you to be confident and comfortable with their care? This is a very personal decision.


    Where is the doctor located? How far is it from your home. Will you have difficulty getting there? What hospital do they work from? Is it in close proximity to your home? Perhaps location is of secondary importance to you - finding a cardiologist who meets other criteria may be more important than location.

    Do you belong to an HMO?

    If so, finding a cardiologist will have an added twist. You must see only HMO-affiliated doctors and go only to HMO-affiliated hospitals except in emergencies. Confirm with your HMO which cardiologists are in your list of specialty providers. If there is not an adequate list, call the HMO to see what you do from there. If your choice is not listed, ask if a doctor can be added to the list and what that process entails.

    What do you look for in a cardiologist? Have you been successful in finding a cardiologist you are satisfied with? Do you have a success story or a horror story that you'd like to share? Click the link and start writing!

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