By James M. Rippe

If you already have heart disease, you’re going to be best cared for by both your family doctor and a cardiologist. A cardiologist has advanced training in cardiology, which is a subspecialty of internal medicine. Pursuing such a subspecialty typically means anywhere from three to five years of training in addition to full training in internal medicine.

Choosing a cardiologist can be a little trickier than choosing a family care doctor, because the normal sources of information — family and friends — may not be as familiar with cardiology specialists, or you may belong to an insurance or managed-care plan that requires you to select from a particular group of physicians or to be referred by your primary-care physician. In fact, in most cases, your primary-care physician will refer you to a cardiologist.

You can begin your search by asking your primary-care physician these questions about the cardiologists he or she recommends:

  • Where did the cardiologist train?

  • What are his or her areas of specialty within cardiology?

  • At what hospitals does the cardiologist practice?

  • How does the cardiologist approach his or her patients?

  • Is the cardiologist willing to form partnerships and talk to patients, rather than merely giving directions and demanding that they be followed?

  • How accessible is the cardiologist?

  • How is the cardiologist as a human being?

On the basis of this information, you may treat your first consultation with the cardiologist as an opportunity to get better acquainted with his or her ideas and style. Use some of the same questions you would ask a primary-care physician.

If you don’t think the fit between the two of you is good, ask your primary-care physician for another referral. If you have found another candidate based on your research, ask your primary-care doctor for his or her opinion and a referral.