The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States annually, accounting for a whopping 25 percent of all U.S. deaths. When it comes to matters of the heart, choosing the right cardiologist—a doctor with special training and skill in finding, treating, and preventing diseases of the heart and blood vessels—is paramount. You and your cardiologist may tackle some important issues that impact your quality of life and longevity. He or she will not only diagnose and treat any pertinent conditions, but educate you on preventive measures, including diet and lifestyle changes.

Start with some fundamentals such as location and accessibility when looking for a cardiologist. It’s easier to keep appointments if you don’t have to drive a long distance to get to your cardiologist. And you want a doctor who is accessible. If you must wait months for an appointment, you may have trouble getting subsequent timely appointments and therefore timely diagnostic testing and treatment.

While location and accessibility are important, they shouldn’t be your only consideration. There are several subspecialties within cardiology. If you know the nature of your medical issue, it’s wise to search for a heart doctor who is experienced with your specific condition. If you haven’t been diagnosed with  a condition that requires a subspecialist, start with a general cardiologist. They treat a wide range of issues that affect the heart and blood vessels and can always refer you to a specialist if necessary.

You also need a doctor who matches your communication style and who educates you about your condition and preventive measures. You and your cardiologist should be a team with the same end goal—good heart health. During an initial consultation,  ask questions, take notes, and be sure you understand the answers. Then ask yourself if you felt comfortable with the doctor and if so, why. If not, move on and see another doctor for consultation.

Keep in mind, however, that a good bedside manner doesn’t automatically translate to the doctor being current in his or her knowledge. In addition, look for a cardiologist that is at the forefront of his or her specialty. The science of cardiovascular medicine is continually improving. You want a cardiologist who is familiar with these changes firsthand—one that is a part of advancing the field. Digging deeper, you may want to consider a cardiologist’s experience. Ask the doctors you’re considering how many times they’ve performed a particular procedure or their experience with a certain technology of condition.

Lastly, being a board certified cardiologist means the doctor has not only studied this specialty but has also passed rigorous testing. If board certification is important to you, look for the letters FACC after the doctor’s name, which means Fellow of the American College of Cardiology (ACC). Cardiologists elected as fellows have demonstrated their commitment to the highest standards of patient care, according to the ACC. Finding the right cardiologist for yourself is an asset that’s worth your search.