Monday, October 8, 2012

When to Part Ways with Your Doc

     Usually I know after several encounters whether I mesh with a person or not. For four years, I have tried to get a good feeling about my primary care physician, but when I leave her office, I feel worse going out than I did coming in. You see, I’m a worrier, and my doctor is closed-lipped—so we don’t make a good combination. At my last appointment, it finally hit me—I need to fire my physician.

     Several months ago, John Reed, MD, of Smithsburg Family Medical Center, told me that trust, chemistry, and communication should be present during all doctor-patient encounters. Physicians should be your confidant, educator, and evaluator—guiding you to optimal health. “It’s that kind of a relationship,” he said.

Is your doctor making the grade? Ask yourself the following questions:

Is there chemistry? You like a direct approach, but your doctor beats around the bush. You value warmth and conversation, but your doctor delivers information with rapid fire. Like any other relationship, when it’s not right, it’s no good.

Does your doctor respect your time? Some physicians run late because they need to spend more time with the patient whose appointment came before yours. If you like your physician, you probably accept this. But if your doctor then speeds through your visit, that’s a concern. Primary care offices generally schedule 10 minutes for sick appointments and 20 minutes for routine visits. Make sure you get your share of time.

Are you in the dark? Your doctor should tell you why he’s ordering tests, what your symptoms could mean, and explain new medications and their side effects. He should also speak in a language that you can understand.

Does she listen to you? Your doctor’s body language should say, “I’m all ears.” She should let you complete your sentences and take what you have to say seriously.

Do you have confidence in your doctor’s decisions? If you leave the office with more questions unanswered than answered, it’s time to seek another medical opinion.

Do you feel like a child? I remember my mother’s cardiologist acting condescending to my mother and me when we wanted to understand her A-fib diagnosis. Remember, you have the right to research your condition and ask your doctor questions.

How’s the supporting cast? Does your physician’s office return your calls, or put you in touch with the doctor when you have a question? Does it take multiple attempts to get a prescription filled? The efficiency and organization of the front office is a reflection of your physician.

Is your doctor keeping up with the times? Board certification demonstrates that your physician has kept up with new developments in his area of care, but it does not guarantee a successful relationship or perfect doctor. Go to the American Board of Medical Specialties website to see if your physician is board certified. Also, look for your doctor to reference the latest medical guidelines or recent studies; it means he is doing his homework.

If you decide to switch doctors, you’ll have to share your medical story to someone new, but transferring your medical records is easy if you stay within your current health system. Meritus Health uses electronic health records, so movement of your record is fast and free. Finding a physician outside of the health system will involve a transfer fee and take about two weeks.

If you find yourself looking for a new physician, ask friends and relatives for a referral. A valued specialist (i.e. cardiologist, gastroenterologist, dermatologist) may also provide a recommendation. Keep in mind wise advice from Dr. Reed. “Approach the selection of your primary care physician as you would a first date—first impressions are important. Like any relationship, you’re more likely to listen to your doctor if he listens to you.” 

By: Anne Gill 

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