You And Your New Doctor – A Few Thoughts

I was going to title this post “How to Choose a New Doctor” but that doesn’t happen very much any more.  Long gone are the days when a person chose a doctor and received most of his or her health care from that doctor over a period of many years.  Today’s health care is fragmented so that patients may see multiple different doctors in different specialties over the course of just a short period of time.  Even the process of selecting a primary care physician is different now with managed care and hospital chains buying up private practices.  Today, you are just as likely to be assigned a doctor as you are to choose one.  In fact assignment may even be more likely.  Even so, you have some rights and choices.

Only 5.7% of US doctors are Black, and experts warn the shortage harms public health | CNN

Your first choice is your primary care physician (PCP).  Your PCP is probably the most critical person to your health care.  This will be the doctor you see most often.  This may also be the person who decides when and if you can see a specialist.  What is your health insurance plan and what does it require?  Can you choose your PCP from all the doctors in your area or are you limited to those in your network?

Even if limited to those PCPs in your network, there are certain qualities you need and want in your PCP.

Don’t just take whoever the plan may assign to you.  Who is this person?  Where did she train?  How much training has she received?  Did she do a residency?  What certifications does she have?  Does she have a discipline record down at the medical board?  All these are questions you should be able to get answers to before you meet the doctor for the first time.

When you meet the doctor, you want to assess her and figure out if she is both what you want in a doctor and if the two of you are a good fit for each other.  Here are some things I think are important and that you should consider.

Will this doctor take the time needed to provide good care?  If you read this blog regularly, you know that doctors are facing more pressure than ever to see more patients than ever.  The economics of the practice of medicine or the demands of their employers want them to maximize the bottom line.  You, on the other hand, want a doctor who will spend an hour with you, if that is what it takes to understand your health issue and decide upon a treatment plan. You need to find someone who will listen to you, take the time to properly care for you, and be your advocate, if you need further care.

Is this doctor a good listener or is he an impatient person who cuts you off?  Good listening is the key to good diagnosis.  On the other hand, even an impatient doctor can be a wonderful doctor.  Good listening is not a deal breaker, but one of the factors you should be considering.

Is the doctor honest and open?  Does the doctor clearly explain what she or he thinks may be going on and what he or she plans for you going forward?   Does the doctor keep clear and complete records of your treatment?  Nowadays, most health care providers have portals that allow patients to see their records.  Even if there is no portal, get a copy of your records and review them.  You are entitled to a copy by law and should review them for accuracy.  Mistaken information in your medical records (something that is sadly not uncommon) can follow you forever and affect the treatment decisions of subsequent doctors.  Make sure your new doctor has gotten your health problems right.

Is the doctor’s office staff professional?  You can tell a lot about a doctor by the staff she has hired to interact with her patients.

Does the doctor appear to respect patient privacy?  If the doctor is talking to you about other patients, that is a bad sign.

Does this doctor seem to care about you?  Or is this doctor an upseller, who is trying to get you to purchase additional services you might not need.  Even worse, is this doctor someone who may order tests you don’t need or treatments you don’t need.  Always remember that there is no free lunch.  Every medical treatment carries with it some risk, however rare or slight, and you don’t want to expose yourself to unnecessary medical risks.

I am sure there are other qualities you may want to consider when deciding whether to form a long-term relationship with a PCP.  Just remember that you have the right to insist on another doctor, if the one you have is not the one you need.  Choose wisely.


Posted in Doctors, electronic medical records, Fee for Service, Health Insurers, medical charts, medical ethics, Misdiagnosis |