How to Find Dr Right!

June 22, 2011

The ideal doctor would be one who is : competent; compassionate with a caring attitude ; experienced; with a well-organized practice - and has all the time in the world for you! While you may never find someone who meets all these criteria, how can you find a good doctor to take care of you?

The ideal doctor would be one who is : competent; compassionate with a caring attitude ; experienced; with a well-organized practice - and has all the time in the world for you! While you may never find someone who meets all these criteria, how can you find a good doctor to take care of you?

It's not easy finding Dr. Right- there's no guaranteed way to do it. The physician who's Dr. Right for you could be Dr. Wrong for your mother-in-law. But there are strategies for homing in on the doctor with whom you can develop the right chemistry for a life-time relationship.

Primary Care:
First, find a primary-care doctor- this could be a physician, or a family doctor. Women can use the services of a gynecologist, and for your children you will need a pediatrician.

Your primary-care physician should be someone who will take care of you, and will coordinate and oversee your care, referring you to a specialist if needed. It is not a good idea to consult the "top" specialist for every problem, though this seems fashionable these days- for example, going to a neurologist for a headache. This can lead to your getting poor-care- specialist often order unnecessary tests (which are expensive and painful) to rule out rare diseases (after all, they are specialists, and they cannot afford to "miss" a diagnosis!).

How to Find a Good Doctor

The best time to find a doctor is when you don't need one! Ask your friends for recommendations. A good source of referrals can be nurses and other paramedical staff. If you have a friend who is a doctor, ask him for advice as well.

The yellow pages can be also be a useful source of possible names if you need to make a comprehensive list. Phone the doctors on your list. This might seem like a strange thing to be doing, but "telephone shopping" can provide you with a lot of useful information about the practice (such as office timings, fees, qualifications, hospital attachments, special interests).

If the receptionist cannot provide this information, ask to speak to the doctor or his assistant (please do this at a time convenient that you have been referred to him and need more information). Let your fingers do the walking! Finally, make an appointment to talk to the doctor in person- and please be prepared to pay for this! If you find your doctor is helpful and has time to listen to you, then you are on the right track.

At this first consultation, not only does the doctor get to know your medical problems and examine you, but you also get to know a lot about the doctor and this initial assessment is important:

  • Are you comfortable with him or her?
  • Does he explain properly?
  • Does he use teaching aids?
  • Does he ask for your views?

Often patients will stick to one doctor, even when they are not happy with him, simply because their family has been going to him for years (remember, doctors age too, and he may not be as good as he once was!), or because "he knows my case"- but don't hesitate to change doctors if necessary.

The Clinic

  • Is the clinic located in a good building?
  • Is public access easy? What about the car parking?
  • Is the clinic itself comfortable? Has the doctor bothered to provide the basic amenities you need ( eg, drinking water, comfortable seating )?
  • What kind of reading material is kept in the waiting area? Old and torn magazines are a negative mark .
  • Patient educational literature and current issues of health magazines means the doctor respects your waiting time and uses it to educate you.
  • Is the office staff helpful? How do they answer the telephone?

Waiting to see the doctor:
The commonest complaint patients have about their doctors is that they are made to wait for ages! It is only because patients put up with it that doctors get away with this unpardonable behavior. After all, no doctor will remain very busy if all his patients decide that they refuse to wait for him!

Some patients seem to believe that the longer they have to wait outside the doctor's clinic, the better he must be, since he is so many patients to see. This is simply not true! No matter how busy the doctor, he can always space appointments, so that you never have to wait for more than 30 minutes to see him . If he consistently makes you wait longer than this, it means he does not respect you enough to value your time! This doctor is implicitly saying," I do not need you - I have more than enough patients to keep me very busy." Let his patients keep him busy, and find someone who respects you and your time more than he does.

Some doctors will deliberately overbook- the more patients they see, the better their income. While an occasional delay is unavoidable - since a medical emergency could require your doctor's immediate attention- if you are made to wait each time, something is seriously wrong with the doctor's attitude towards patients. For any delay, the office staff should have the courtesy to provide an explanation, and an alternative appointment.

As an example of efficient patient management, if the doctor's at the famous Mayo Clinic in the US make you wait for more than 30 minutes without an explanation, you can complain to the hospital manager who will rectify matters.

Timings:
Are these convenient to you?
What happens on weekends and after office hours? Is he available for emergencies?
Does he have a partner who shares his responsibilities?

Patient convenience:
Does your doctor try to minimize your visits- for example, are blood samples collected in the clinic to be forwarded to a reliable laboratory, or are you sent to the laboratory yourself?
Are basic services provided in the clinic itself? ( eg,, ECG in the case of a physician?)

Qualification and credentials :
Beware quacks! Find out what each abbreviation listed behind the doctor's name means- not all of them are legitimate degrees. For example, many doctor's will put FICA (USA) and FRSH (London) behind their names to give the impression that they have trained abroad. These acronyms are not qualifications- they are just memberships in a society abroad, which are open to anyone- even a barber- on payment of a nominal fee!

Hospital attachments:
At which hospital does the doctor have admitting privileges? While attachment to a large hospital has benefits, if your doctor is attached to many hospitals ( as is common today), it might also mean that is so busy running around from one place to another that he has little time for you.

Fees:
Are his fees exorbitant? Just because he is more expensive than others does not mean he is better!

Records:
Are yours records well maintained? Are they filed so they can be retrieved in an emergency?
Are they up to date, and complete?
Has your doctor taken the time and trouble to explain them to you so that you understand them?

Medical care:
Does your doctor take a careful history, asking you probing questions about your medical problem?
Does he do a careful physical examination? Remember, a careful clinical examination provides much more information than anything else!
Does the physician sit when talking to you? Talking while standing is a sure sign that he is too busy to listen!
Does he give you educational materials to read at home about your problem?

Prescription habits:
Does your doctor always prescribe drugs for all problems, even minor ones? Over 50 percent of problems that take you to the doctor are relatively minor and will resolve on their own, without any treatment - worry about a doctor who dispenses too much!

  • Does he order too many tests routinely?
  • Does he bother to explain why you need them?
  • Does he explain the results to you?
  • Does he insist that you get all your tests done only in a place he specifies, without giving you a good advice? If so, you should suspect his referral - he may have an ulterior motive?

Decisions:
When making decisions regarding your medical care, does your doctor explain them to you? Offer alternatives? Does he treat you as an intelligent person who can understand, and encourage you to participate in the decision - making process?

Referral to a specialist:
Does your doctor explain why he is referring you to another doctor?
Does he contact the specialist and utilize his knowledge effectively to improve your care?

Surgery:
When he advises surgery, does he explain the risks and alternatives?

Hospitalization:
Does he explain why you cannot be treated outside hospital? Sometimes, hospitalizing you is in the doctor's best interests, rather than yours (Since all his other patients are in hospital, it's easier for him to take care of you here but it doesn't follow that it's the right place for you. Keep out of hospital if you can!).

The Day Care Option:
Day care surgery is surgery that does not require Hospitalization. Operations performed on a day-care basis include hernia repair, laparoscopy, tonsillectomy, and cataract removal. The operation usually takes less than two hours; an recovery care is provided at home.

Day care surgery allows patients to recuperate at home . After all, why should you stay in hospital if you can go back to the comfort of your own bed at home with no risks? Day care surgery is much more patient-friendly and, if you are advised surgery, ask your doctor if you can get it done on a day-care surgery basis, rather than in a hospital.

A Word about Second Opinions:
Never be afraid to seek a second opinion. A good doctor will encourage you to do so if needed, and will welcome someone someone else's confirmation of his opinion- after all, there are no black and whites in medicine. A doctor who resents your request for a second opinion, or who makes you feel uncomfortable for asking for one, is likely to be unsound, and you should take his advice with caution.

How to be sure you are getting good care:
Ask yourself the following questions at the end of each visit, to keep a scorecard.

  • Were you made to wait too long?
  • Did the doctor spend enough time with you?
  • Did he explain your condition so you could understand?
  • Do you know what you should do now? And not do?
  • Can you call back if you have a problem?
  • Has he given you a follow-up appointment?

HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR DOCTOR

Patients who know how to make the most of their doctor get better medical care- it's that simple! The doctor-patient relationship is very special- it's personal, it's private and it's different for every person. It is unique- and since it is the ultimate one-on-one relationship, where you confide in your doctor and entrust him with your life, you must find a doctor you can trust and be comfortable with. You need to work as a team with your doctor.

In order to foster this relation, treat it with care and respect. Don't forget to say "Thank you" when you get better- a doctor gets fed up of seeing patients with complaints all day long, and it's nice for him to hear a patient say he is better thanks to the doctor's care. Unfortunately, this is something we often forget- and patients tend to remember the doctor only when ill. Saying you're better also makes your doctor remember you as a person and treat you as a special patient - and getting VIP attention from you helps to improve your medical care!

There is no one doctor who is Dr. Right for everyone - there is a special chemistry sometimes - but you need to hunt for the doctor who is right for you, depending upon your temperament, personality, and perhaps age and sex. Patients have different personalities - some need to be told what to do while others want all their questions answered - so obviously they will need different types of doctors. Each patient will find the doctor he deserves!

Making the most of your visit:

What to tell your doctor:

All the symptoms you have noted. Provide these in chronological order, starting from when you first noted something was amiss.
Details of what remedies you have tried, and whether they helped or not
Family history
Past medical history

What to ask your doctor:

What he thinks is wrong with you. Often, he may tell you he does not know. When he says this, it does not mean he is a poor physician - it may simply mean you have a difficult problem, for which more tests are needed; or that your doctor would like to "wait and watch" to see how the problem evolves; or that he may need to refer your for a second opinion. Remember, doctors do not have all the answers!

Whether you need to see him again, and when.

Details about the treatment recommended, preferably in writing.

Carry written checklists with you at every visit. It's very common that you have a number of questions to ask the doctor, but in the stress of the consultation, you forget most of these. This is very frustrating, and you kick yourself when you get home. To prevent this from happening, write down all the questions you need to ask. It's also helpful to write down the doctor's answers - take notes, if needed. Studies have shown that patients forget about 50 percent of what the doctor tells them in a visit! Writing it down will prevent this from happening. It also helps your doctor, because you don't need to phone him with your queries or ask the same questions during every visit.

Taking a friend or relative along for the consultation can also be very helpful. It helps to reduce your anxiety; gives you courage to ask questions; and also ensures you have someone to interpret what the doctor said. Please ask questions - never mind how many other patients are waiting outside the doctor's office; or how stupid the questions may seem to you. When you are with the doctor, his only focus of interest should be you - and it's his job to provide answers! Remember, the only stupid question is the one you didn't ask.

Be assertive in asking questions and obtaining information, but don't be aggressive or antagonistic. Listen carefully to what your doctor says, and ask questions if you do not understand.

Remember, the word doctor is derived from the Latin root, "docere" which means ‘to teach'. So look for a doctor who is willing to share his knowledge with you!

Your rights and your duties:
The doctor-patient relationship involves rights and duties and, as a patient, you must keep both in mind.

Your duties and responsibilities as patient include:

  • Keeping appointments punctually.
  • Taking medicines as prescribed.
  • Getting in touch early if anything is amiss.
  • Paying promptly for your medical services.

Your rights as a patient include:

  • Being informed about what is wrong with you and how the doctor hopes to help you, in language you can understand.
  • Being provided with competent medical care.
  • Not being made to wait for excessively long amounts of time.

Follow-up visits:
Try to schedule your next visit at the end of the consultation.
If it's something which can be managed on the phone, then it's much better that you have a telephonic follow-up - why go to the doctor's clinic when you don't need to.

Making decisions and informed consent:
You must be actively involved in making decisions which involve your own body. If you don't understand the doctor's medical and technical terms, the fault is not yours-it's your doctor's, because he is not explaining properly! There is nothing which is so difficult that it cannot be made understandable to you. If your doctor doesn't have the time or interest to do so, find someone else who does! A good doctor must respect your intelligence and ability to understand and make your own decisions. Especially in medicine, there are few cut-and-dried answers, and there may be many ways of solving a particular problem. You need to find our (with the help of your doctor) which method is right for you.

Medical records:
Make sure you have copies of all your records- after all, they are your property. You can give the doctor xerox copies of your original reports for his files, if needed. Also make sure that you understand what's in your medical records- it must make sense to you so that you can explain it to another doctor if needed.

Patient education:
Try to take an active interest in your medical care - after all, this is the only body you have! Read as much as you can about your problem. A good doctor will give you written material to read at home, so that you can assimilate what he has said at your leisure.

What not to do - or how to drive your doctor crazy:

  • Repeat the same question.
  • Ask about a friend's problems during your consultation.
  • Phone at 3 am on a Sunday for a problem which you have had for a week.

Doctors don't like patients who:

  • Throw their money around.
  • Are over-important, and demand to be seen immediately.
  • Are garrulous and beat around the bush.
  • Don't pay for their services
  • Expect doctors to be available at their beck and call, 24 hours.
  • Are Mr. (or Ms.) Know-it-alls.

Doctor's like patients who:

  • Appreciate the work doctors do
  • Are punctual
  • Respect the doctor's privacy, and his personal life.
  • Are well-informed, and understand what the doctor can - and cannot - do to help them.
  • Report problems early, instead of delaying coming to the doctor.