Overworked. Too many patients. Not enough time. Too much paperwork. Patients who don’t follow instructions. The high-cost of malpractice insurance. All of these are things that I understand doctors complain about, and rightly so. I’m quite sure it can’t be easy to treat patient after patient each day, each with a different problem or concern. And the necessity of paying the extremely high price of malpractice insurance forces many doctors to over-schedule their days–they have to see a certain number of patients each day just to cover the costs of running the office. It has to add to the frustration when many of those patients fail to follow the doctor’s instructions, ignoring important advice.
But, as much as I sympathize with how difficult it is to be a doctor, I can’t help but think that some doctors just settle–they just settle for doing only what they have to do, and nothing more. And what’s worse, many patients out there just accept this half-hearted practice of medicine. Maybe some of these patients think have no choice in which doctor they see due to the insurance that they have, or perhaps some are just staying with a certain doctor out of convenience, complacence, or some kind of misguided loyalty. Whatever the reason, though, lots of patients stick with a certain doctor, regardless of the doctor’s skill, and no one should be doing this. People should be seeing doctors in whom they have complete confidence, doctors who have the patients’ best interest in mind–not doctors who are simply concerned about the monetary bottom line of their practice.
So, how do you know if you have a good doctor or not? How can you tell if your doctor is skilled at what he does, or if he is just doing what he has to in order to get by and earn his money? Intuition should be your first clue–go by what you feel about the doctor. Most people have some kind of second sight or get some kind of a hunch about people–think about when you meet someone for the first time…you usually have a gut reaction as to whether or not you and the person will get along, right? Use this same intuitiveness with your doctor, and think about what type of person he is and how he treats his patients.
Obviously, hunches aren’t good enough to use as a sole element with which to measure the adequacy of your doctor. So, here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you determine if your doctor is a good one:
–Does your doctor take time to talk to you during each doctor visit? Does he explain everything to your satisfaction, and does he give you enough time to ask questions? Does he then answer these questions without trying to cut your visit short?
–Does your doctor treat you with respect at all times? Does he genuinely seem concerned about your welfare?
–Does your doctor try to work out treatment methods and choose prescriptions that will be covered by your insurance? Or, if a required treatment or medicine isn’t covered by insurance, does your doctor try to find a way for you to still receive that treatment or medicine?
–Does your doctor listen to your recommendations about your own health? For example, if you have read about a new treatment option on the internet and you suggest it to your doctor, does he take your ideas into consideration?
–Does your doctor admit when he isn’t sure of something, and does he then refer you to a specialist?
–Do you feel confident in your doctor’s decisions about your health and medicines?
–Can you get ahold of your doctor (or a doctor on-call) at any time, if you should need assistance with something?
–Does your doctor keep up with the latest advancements in healthcare?
If you can answer all of the above questions with a “yes,” then you have a good doctor–stick with him. But if you are unsure about any the answer to any of those questions, or if any of your answers were a “no,” then you should think about why you are still seeing this doctor. Is it because this doctor is covered by your insurance? Well, I’m quite sure that your insurance plan, whatever it may be, has more than one doctor on its covered provider list. If you do not have the list of doctors who are covered by your insurance, call your plan and get a list.
If you are still seeing this doctor because of another reason, think about how you can get around that reason. For example, if convenience is your reason, you can probably find another doctor whose office is close to your home or workplace. And, if you are sticking with the same doctor because of some kind of loyalty, because your whole family has seen him for years…well, you have to ask yourself what is more important–loyalty to a not-so-good doctor, or your health.
So, if you have come to the conclusion that you need to switch doctors, how can you find a good one this time around? How can you make sure that you aren’t choosing another mediocre doctor? An obvious (and necessary) place to start is with your insurance plan–most likely you are going to want to see a doctor that is covered by your plan so that you aren’t socked with a bunch of extra fees, right? So make sure you have the provider list handy. Then, start asking around–and don’t be shy about it. Ask all of your close friends, ask your acquaintances, even ask your work colleagues with whom you are friendly. Just ask everyone if they like the doctor they see and if they would recommend him, and if they say that they would, that they feel he is a good doctor, get the name of the doctor. If you ask several people, you will end up with several names, yes–and maybe, if you are lucky, you might have a few people who have named the same doctor.
In any case, your next step is to take those doctor names and cross-reference them against your provider list. Mark off any doctors that are not covered by your insurance. By now, hopefully you will have just a few names left, but if you still have a lot of names that is still alright. Now, start looking up the doctors in the yellow pages or online and find out where their offices are located. Why is this step important? Well, it is generally a good idea to have a doctor who isn’t too far away from where you live and/or from where you work so that if you have some kind of emergency you can get to the doctor’s office quickly. So, by doing this step, you can eliminate any doctors whose offices are too far away.
Now you are ready to make a few preliminary phone calls. Before you call, have ready what you want to say. Here are some questions you are going to want to ask each office before choosing which doctor you want to see:
–Is this office accepting new patients? How long is the wait for an appointment?
–Is this doctor familiar in treating my medical conditions? ( For instance, if you have diabetes, you will want to ask if the doctor has experience with diabetic patients. Or, if you have a chronic pain condition, you need to know if this doctor understands how to treat people who have chronic pain. Whatever your specific medical problems are (if any), you are going to want to ask about them.)
–What is the doctor’s education and training?
–What are the doctor’s office hours?
–How are after-hours calls handled?
–With which hospitals is this doctor affiliated?
So, call each prospective doctor’s office and ask the above questions. If you get a rude receptionist, that might be a sign to move on to the next doctor; however, if she is simply rushed, she may be busy–you can offer to leave your phone number for her to call you back at a better time.
Take the answers you got from all of the doctors and compare them. Which doctor looks the best to you? Which doctor has the most convenient office hours or the most experience with your medical conditions? Remember, all of these doctors have already been recommended by people that you know and all of these doctors are covered by your insurance, so they already have something going for them–you just need to choose which one you feel would be the best for you. Having trouble deciding? Ask a trusted friend or relative to look things over with you and help you come to a decision. Also, keep in mind that you are not making a commitment forever with this new doctor–you are simply choosing to see the doctor. If things don’t work out or you get a hunch that this isn’t the doctor for you, you can always come back to your list and find another doctor to try.
Whatever you do, don’t just settle for a doctor…you deserve to have a doctor who is involved in your health, one who is actively trying to work with you towards the goal of better health–not a doctor who is just doing what he has to in order to get by. Take charge of your health and find a doctor who is right for you!