Depending on how long you usually sit in your doctor's waiting room, this slim volume could be readable before your next office visit. It's a hands-on guide, meant to help veteran HMO members, novices and potential members.

If you're not in the mood for HMO horror stories and don't care about facts and figures such as the name of the first HMO and how many people are now HMO members, skip right to Part II, "What You Should Know About Your HMO That It Would Rather You Didn't," which explains in readable fashion the difference among HMO models (including IPAs, network models, group models, PPOs and EPOs), how to compare features, physician payment arrangements and other inside stuff. Part III features tips on maximizing your HMO membership, with practical nuts-and-bolts questions to ask before you choose a primary-care physician (or choose a new one), such as the usual lead time for a routine appointment, waiting time for office visits, backup arrangements and policies for specialist referrals.

Also included: strategies to follow if your HMO denies payment, how to protect the privacy of your medical records, and sample letters of complaint. An appendix lists, state by state, the regulators of HMOs, with addresses and telephone numbers. All in all, a handy reference guide, although the tone and content at times underestimate the readers' IQ. Did we really need to read a half page on "Why You Need This Book"?

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