While we don’t take vows within our doctor-patient relationships, they are still significant partnerships—in sickness and in health. Most people value doctors who are caring, determined, intelligent, humble, passionate and are good listeners. While every provider has an occasional bad day, over time doctors are with us for the high and low points of our lives, so it’s worth finding the ones you feel confident will take the best care of you.
As you evaluate your relationship with your current doctor, pay attention to these red flags:
Your opinions and questions don’t seem welcome. We all know doctors are smart—but is ego getting in the way? Some doctors might refuse to address your alternative ideas or questions about a different treatment. If you want an open dialogue and your doctor dismisses you without discussion, it might be a sign it’s time to move on.
Your doctor seems checked out. If your doctor treats you like a number—just going through the motions—it could be time to find someone more engaging. As with a romance gone stale, nobody likes feeling taken for granted. Is the doctor spending more time with the computer than with you? Regardless of the doctor’s other responsibilities that day, she should take the time to focus on you and listen to your concerns.
Your personalities don’t mesh. Some people prefer physicians who are all business and unemotional, while others want one who always asks about Aunt Sally. It’s really up to your own comfort level and how often you see the doctor. You might be OK with a poker-faced specialist you’ll see every six months, but draw the line at a pediatrician whom you’ll see often and doesn’t relate well to your kids.
Your doctor’s medical staff is incompetent or rude. Your health may be in danger in the hands of an unskilled, inattentive staff. Doctors rely on office personnel, and if their staff doesn’t alert them to your phone call, you might not get a call back. If they lose your test results, fail to order tests, or don’t remember to refill your prescriptions, it’s time to speak up. Share your experience with the head nurse or the practice administrator. Give your doctor a chance to address a rude staff member, but if the problem persists, look elsewhere.
Ordering tests without an explanation. “Because I said so” can be an acceptable answer from a parent to a child, but not from a doctor to a patient. Ask why your doctor wants to perform certain blood tests, scans or other diagnostic evaluations, even if the answer may be upsetting. You’ll want to know about possible diagnoses and the cost involved with tests. If he offers no explanation—or one you’re not comfortable with—seek a second opinion.
Your doctor balks at a second opinion. Seeking a second opinion doesn’t mean you’re questioning your doctor’s judgment. Just as you don’t always take the first mechanic’s word for your car problem, you’re smart to consider all options when it comes to your health. A good doctor will always welcome a second opinion because it means she is prioritizing your health and not protecting her ego.
Your doctor isn’t board certified. While doctors who aren’t board certified can capably care for patients, they haven’t gone the extra mile to prove they are rock stars in their field. Earning board certification means your doctor meets or exceeds nationally recognized standards from the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or from other certifying boards. You can check your doctor’s profile on Healthgrades to find out if he or she is board certified or find another doctor who is.
You leave the doctor’s office confused. All of your doctor’s expertise doesn’t mean anything if you don’t understand a word of it. We expect doctors to use medical jargon, but they also should be able to explain things to you in plain English. If you don’t understand something, make sure to ask. But if you still don’t have a clear picture, find a new doctor who’s better at communicating.
Life is too short to dread going to the doctor. We each have enough of our own excuses to delay doctor’s visits; not liking your doctor isn’t a valid one.