In an age when many of us are grateful to have health insurance, and insecure about the possibility of losing it, the issue of doctor quality may seem to take a back seat. But nothing is more important than having a doctor you feel that you could trust in a crisis, who would be able to explain a difficult diagnosis to you, and could go through the pros and cons of treatments in a way that you could understand and participate in.
Your doctor is part of your team of professionals, whom you rely on for good advice as you make decisions for your life. You owe it to yourself to find the best advice and care available to you.
I recently had to change doctors. In the past when I changed doctors, it was always because they had left me, not the other way around. One moved to London with her family, another left the field of medicine, and another time when my health coverage changed, my then-doctor did not accept the new coverage. This time was different.
The quality of care I was getting was not good enough. Like most big choices, this one became necessary for me because of a series of experiences over time. About a year ago, for the first time in my life I had a serious medical condition that required an accurate diagnosis and immediate treatment. In the end, the doctor did get the right diagnosis and ordered the right treatment, and I recovered. But replaying the tape of the ordeal, I noticed some things that made me think she should not remain my doctor for the long haul.
The doctor seemed to be threatened when I asked probing questions, or came up with possible diagnoses of my own. In responding to my questions, she gave me information that proved to be false. How do I know that? Because I followed up by gathering information from other sources. These sources included another doctor I saw who was a specialist in the field, the tech who did the CAT-scan and had seen many situations like mine, and of course Google. My doctor had told me that two possible diagnoses I suggested were impossible. Both turned out to be entirely plausible, even though in the end they were not accurate in my own case. This made me feel vulnerable in the care of my doctor. She was not confident enough to allow that there were possible alternative diagnoses. She could have missed important information because of this.
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At the follow-up visit after the treatment, I asked the doctor what I might do to avoid having this situation occur again. She told me about certain dietary practices to avoid. I went home and checked on Google, and found that several different authoritative sites, run by medical associations related to my diagnosis, labeled this advice as an “old wives’ tale.” That was it. I knew I needed to change doctors.
How could I find a doctor who would not patronize me, or become defensive if I asked questions or suggested alternative points of view, and who would not give me misinformation?
I found that my insurance carrier’s website has listings of all their doctors, with location, educational background, training, specialties, and a photo. It also shows what kind of insurance they accept, and whether they are accepting new patients. I picked one who seemed like she would meet my needs, and she impressed me by emailing me through the practice’s secure email system, saying she had read my chart and ordered some tests that she thought I should have. She asked me to have the tests done at the practice’s lab a week before our appointment, at my own convenience, so that we could discuss the results at our visit.
Right away I liked this doctor. In ordering the tests done before the visit, she was being respectful of my time and hers, and cost-efficient as well. She also ordered a test that my former doctor had not done, and uncovered a condition I had that was causing some unexplained symptoms. The treatment is simple and effective, and I am now taking meds that have made me feel better than I have in a long time. She answered my questions and put my mind at ease about the safety of the treatment. Yes, this doctor is a keeper.
The moral of the story?
If you find that your doctor is not listening to you, or is impatient with you when you ask questions that you need the answers to, you should feel free to change doctors. Doctors often do not like it when patients use Google as a source of medical information, and I understand that this can be an overly simplistic approach. However, I do think it is valid for patients to try to understand their condition, and Google – used along with other reliable sources – contains some valuable sources of general information. It is up to doctors to help patients filter that information and apply it to their own condition.
Patients need to respect doctor’s knowledge, and doctors need to respect patients’ need to understand the facts.