Finding a good doctor is not as easy as it sounds. Years ago you may have simply asked a trusted neighbor or friend for a physician recommendation. But these days a doctor that is right for your friends may not be the right one for you.
One of the most popular questions we get asked here at the HospitalSoup website is how to you go about finding the correct doctor for you or your family’s needs? Let’s break this down into a few key steps so that next time you need a doctor you won’t be left out in the cold.
1. Step One: The Best Time to Find a New Doctor is When You Don’t Need One
Some of you may be saying, wait a minute. What do you mean by this? Well, it’s definitely easier to search for a new doctor when you’re not ready to call 911 and be rushed to the Emergency Room. And of course, we all know that if that happens, you don’t get to choose your medical specialists—whomever happens to be on call that day is the doctor you’ll get. Which is not always a very good thing.
So if you’re not in a rush and you have some time to actually research physicians, then you’ll be in a much better place. Now, this doesn’t mean that if you are in the market for a physician now, that the following steps won’t work, it just means that if you can, It’s always best to search for a medical professional, when you don’t need one “yesterday”.
You may still be asking, why is that important? And the answer is that you need to know up front before you even start to try to find a doctor that you deserve to get answers to some basic questions you may have about a particular doctor, before you pay for an office visit. I can’t tell you how many people write in frustrated at either not being able to find the right physician for them or at feeling like they’ve been getting substandard medical care for years. Others comment that they often times feel like leaving the doctor’s office in tears because of another visit that was not what they expected or that the medical professional did not either listen to their concerns or know how to treat them.
Finding a doctor is a business decision. You are paying for their professional expertise, but this is not a one way street. Unlike in the days when many of us watched Marcus Welby, MD. on our television screens some family practitioners these days may see anywhere from 30-40 patients or more a day. The stark reality of this situation is that you most likely will need to be very involved in your medical care, sometimes even doing research on your own and bringing your questions and your research to the attention of your doctor. If your doctor has the attitude that the themselves “have all the answers” or discourages you from being involved in and asking questions about your care, then that is probably time to find a new doctor.
As much as we all may want not want to believe it, many times patients these days are the “captain” of their ship and the buck starts and ends with you to make sure that you get yourself the care you need and deserve. Your physician, can be your co-pilot or first mate, but ultimately if there is a misdiagnosis or non-diagnosis, it is ultimately up to you to fix that problem. If you’re not with the right doctor, it’s time you move on. And even if you get a diagnosis from your physician don’t assume that the first diagnosis you get is the right one. Sometimes getting better means either having a physician who is willing to take a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th look at multiple ways of addressing a problem, or even getting multiple second opinions if the problem is not corrected. So many times I hear stores of patients suffering with treatable problems for 5, 10, 15, and even 20 years. Don’t let yourself be one of those statistics.
3. Step Three: Ask the Right Questions I have a procedure that I use when trying to find a good doctor. Obviously the questions you ask may need to be tailored to the type of physician you are seeking, but don’t waste your time paying for an office visit or going to yet another doctor’s appointment without finding out in advance, if that physician actually has the skills you need. Would you hire someone to do a job around your home, and not ask or investigate their qualifications. And just ‘hope’ that this one was the right person for the job? Of course not, but why is it that many of us may go to multiple doctor’s visits, expend our time and energy to explain our current situation and history to a new physician and have absolutely no idea whether or not that doctor has the skills we need?
I remember quite vividly several years ago when I had a complex medical condition that several doctors misdiagnosed. I was on my 6th visit to yet another Internal Medicine Specialist and she wanted to refer me to a Cardiologist for a consult. By this time I was fairly certain what my condition was and I felt fairly certain that an Electrophysiologist which is a Cardiologist with even more specialized training would be a better choice for me. But I was willing to ‘go along’ with my Internal Medicine Physician’s recommendations to see this one particular Cardiologist, only if the Cardiologist had experience with and had heard of the medical condition that I was fairly certain I had. So before making the appointment I called up the Cardiologists’ office and told the receptionist that I had a clinical question and asked whom I could speak to regarding some specific questions I had about the doctor’s experience. I was transferred to the physician’s nurse, and I asked the nurse if this Cardiologist had any experience treating patients with the condition. The nurse had never heard of the condition which was not a good sign, and so I asked the nurse if the doctor had an email address that I could use to email my question to him directly because I needed to make sure he had knowledge about this condition before making an appointment. After some resistance on the phone, the nurse said ‘no’ that they didn’t give out the doctor’s email address. I then followed with another question asking if the office perhaps had an email address where I could email my question to the physician and that way another staff member could pass on my question to the doctor. “No, the nurse said,” we don’t do that.” Because they didn’t or couldn’t answer my questions I decided that this doctor’s office was not the office for me. And I later learned that the physician had no experience in treating the condition that I would have consulted him for anyway. Was that conversation a bit frustrating? Absolutely, but look how much time and money I just saved by not booking an appointment with a doctor who wouldn’t have known how to treat me. It ended up that I did have the condition that I had questioned this doctor’s office about, and so it was important that I found the right specialist to properly diagnosis and treat it. After wasting my time and energy on numerous physicians who did not have the expertise I needed, I decided that I had to do a better job of finding out in advance if I wanted to work with a physician before my first appointment.
Next time, we’ll look at the exact procedure I use when I’m searching for a new doctor. I’ll also give you the questions that I ask and the reasoning behind the questions I ask of the office staff when I’m trying to narrow down my search for a new medical provider. Even asking all the right questions doesn’t always guarantee you’ll find the best physician on the first try, but it does mean you have a much better chance of finding the right medical provider much sooner than simply ‘hoping’ a name you found in the phone book is a good physician for you.
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