Doctor Hunting: Finding Dr. Right
How to find Dr. Right. Patient responsibilities, Do’s and Don’ts, how and where to do some research, and don’t forget to be picky when choosing a physician.
Here are a few things to keep in mind while you hunt for a specialist:
When it comes to poor physicians, I think I’ve had every experience in the book. I have been called a drug addict, a hypochondriac, a “difficult” patient. I have been ignored almost entirely, interrupted constantly, had doctors come in and out within five minutes. I’ve had doctors who could not look up from their computer screen. I’ve seen gastroenterologists who did not even do a physical exam. I’ve had doctos tell me that Still’s Disease/Rheumatoid Arthritis causes bruised ribs. You name it. Sadly, I am not alone.
My medical issues started at a young age. When I was not dealing with my medical issues, I was working as a first responder in the local hospital. Having been on both sides of the system, I am a firm believer in being able to exercise your rights as a patient. That means being picky: you have the right to find a doctor that works with you, and you can fire a doctor should you need to.
When you are chronically ill, it is imperative to choose a doctor wisely and seek out quality care you are satisfied with. This means looking beyond the name.
A name will not tell you how long a physician has been in practice. A name will not tell you about their credentials, any legal action taken against them, any recognition they have received, which hospitals they are affiliated with, what their patiets think of them, what their personality is like. Simply, a physician’s name has very little value. So don’t go and pick a name and number without some research (if you have the option)— choosing a doctor should not be something you do without it. It is important to be picky.
What do I mean by research?
- Ask neighbors, other trusted physicians, and friends you trust for referrals.
- Visit DocBoard’s DocFinder. Search the physician. It will bring up their licensing and any disciplinary action/legal action.
- Check out sites like RateMD’s, Vitals, Healthgrades, and Federation of State Medical Boards Docinfo.
- Learn about their academic background
- Have they received awards?
- Are they under review or involved with any legal action?
- What do they specialize in? Are they involved in any medical research?
- Find out which hospitals they work with. Would you feel comfortable having a procedure done there if necessary?
- Are they affiliated with a university or teaching hospital? Make note of whether or not they are. University/teaching/research hospitals do tend to have access to more resources, newer research, clinical trials, and newer treatment options.
What to look for in a good physician:
- Listening skills. If you can’t finish a sentence or get your symptoms out of your mouth, that is not a good sign.
- Inquisition. Your doctor should ask you questions about your symptoms, your medical history, so on and so forth.
- Examination skills. If you tell your doctor you have a huge rash on your back and describe it…and they say nothing and do not look at it…you might want to consider the doctor you’re seeing. Or say something. Or both.
- Treatment Plan. If your doctor wants to prescribe you medication refuses to discuss other options per your request, consider a second opinion. If your physician refuses to discuss pain management, physical therapy, or other treatment modalities you may have questions about, consider a second opinion. Your doctor should be much more than a dispensary.
- Communication skills. This is a given. If you cannot talk to your doctor and work with them effectively, start hunting for a new one. It is important to feel comfortable discussing personal, often sensitive information with the person coordinating this aspect of your care. If you feel you are unable to communicate and are doing your part as a responsible patient, it is within your rights to seek out a second opinion or a doctor you connect with better.
- Body language: does your physician come off as cold and intimidating? Do they make eye contact or offer to shake your hand? If you are not comfortable with your physician’s demeanor, are you going to be comfortable discussing private parts of your life or letting them perform a procedure on you?
- Flexibility: Will you be able to get an appointment within the next month? Will they see you on an emergent basis? If your follow up appointments are nearly impossible to get, will it be detrimental to your health?
- Timeliness: Do you wait four hours at a time to see the doctor, and physically what toll does that take on your body if you are there because of a bad flare? Do they look up from their computer during your appointment? How long does the physician spend with you? If they rush out of the room or send their PA to speak with you instead of meeting with personally, consider firing them. Yes, you can fire your doctor. At the end of the day you are in charge of your health.
Patient Responsibilities and Duties:
- DO make a Health Information Sheet (free printable here!)
- DO be willing to drive an hour out to see a physician if you truly feel they are the best fit for you and you have the ability.
- DO be kind, courteous, and patient with their office staff
- DO obtain records from your previous physician(s) and both bring them with you to your first appointment and offer to send them to your doctor’s staff. Doing both will save time if for some reason a file was misplaced.
- DO bring any copies you have of imaging studies with you: CD’s with scans, x-rays, etc.
- DO request new patient paperwork ahead of time. Some doctor’s offices will have paperwork available online. Have it filled out prior to your appointment.
- DO make a list of all medications being taken, including dosage and time of day. It is also helpful to list all medications previously tried/taken for issues. I would also suggest bringing all of your medications with you in addition to your list.
- DO make a list of all prior surgeries with years that way you don’t forget when they ask and no procedure is forgotten.
- DO bring a list of questions you have so you don’t forget them and all of your questions and concerns are addressed.
- DO thank the office staff and physician for their work
- DO go out of your way to bring by a small gift of appreciation if a nurse or physician went out of their way for you. For instance, I am making baskets of cookies for the nurses on the peds floor I stayed on after surgery, and I made my surgeon a special Build a Bear.
- DO your absolute best to be a responsible patient, especially in the context of pain management. Honesty is important.
- DO put away your cell phone, iPod, tablet, whatever during appointments
- DON’T be late or rude
- DON’T stand for a doctor who refuses to admit they don’t know or refuses to seek an outside opinion/consultation
- DON’T stand for a doctor who refuses to communicate with your other doctors when necessary.
- DON’T forget insurance information
- DON’T be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something
- DON’T hesitate to bring a loved one for support.
- DON’T ever be afraid to get a second or third opinion.
- DON’T settle for a physician you do not trust or feel comfortable with. Do not compromise on your health.
Doctor Right is out there, just don’t go hunting without a little background knowledge in your pocket
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