Sounds relatively easy, right?
When I returned to a community I’d moved away from six years earlier, several of my patients had still not found a good doctor. Some of my former patients told me they’d been seeing doctors they didn’t even like, repeatedly.
I have learned a lot about doctor-patient relationships, from my own practice.
When patients say, “He/She is not a good doctor.” what they often mean is that they do not like the communication style of that particular doctor. And they do not PERCEIVE that their needs are being met. Patients are usually not referring to the quality of care provided. I have served on quality assurance committees, reviewing my peers in almost every job I had in the United States. The majority (of US physicians) is well-trained and practice well. There are exceptions. That is why these quality assurance committees exist. I will provide valuable information on finding a good doctor whether you reside in the USA or abroad.
One of the strongest predictors of whether you will like your doctor is whether your friends and family do. Like attracts like, for the most part. Ask your friends, neighbors and colleagues for recommendations. When you ask your friends and neighbors, ask them what they like about the doctor they are recommending.
Do online searches for recommendations. WWW.healthgrades.com provides reviews of doctors. Other sites for consumer ratings are www.angieslist.com and www.checkbook.org. The latter two sites are not free. At the time of writing, angieslist cost $45.25 to join for a year while checkbook.org which is available in 7 metropolitan areas is $34 for 2 years. Most insurance companies have an area of their website for patients to post feedback on their doctor. Recently, a patient relayed that she chose me due to what another patient posted about me on her insurance site. If you are abroad, look to your expatriate sites for referrals. Here in Qatar, I have seen lots of posts about OB/GYN choices on www.qatarliving .com. Another source to try is the forums on www.expatwoman.com.
Once you have a short list of doctors, you can check with your state medical board to see if that doctor holds a valid license to practice in that state and whether any disciplinary action has been filed. WWW.docboard.org “contains the licensing background and disciplinary information of physicians and other health care practitioners in addition to physician profile information from states that have passed physician profile laws”. Some state medical boards allow you to search information about the doctor through docboard.org while others will only allow you to link to their website. (Incidentally, the link for the state of Washington is not completely functional) You also want to know if the doctor is board certified in their field. The American Board of Medical Specialties at www.abms.org can provide you this information. This site has a link in the top left hand side entitled: “Is my doctor board certified?” You will have to go through a simple online registration process to access the information which is free. Being board certified means that the doctor has completed specialty training in his field as well as having passed the necessary test to prove proficiency in his field. All of us have to do an allotted amount of continuing medical education yearly along with retest for our board certification on a scheduled basis. For Family Practice, we have to complete 50 hours of education per year and retest every 10 years.
If you’re in the USA, ask for a “Meet and Greet” or introductory appointment. This is where you interview the doctor to see if you are a match and can work with him/her. Usually these are free appointments or at least I never charged for them. But ask beforehand. What you cannot do in this type of appointment is have your condition treated.
Here is a list of things you want to ask: Ask the front office staff/receptionists about the working hours. Does the practice have same day appointments reserved for emergencies? Does the doctor take calls at night? If not, who covers his call? If you choose to make an appointment, on arrival take notice of the office. Is it clean and orderly? Is it calm or chaotic? How does the staff greet you and address you? Do you feel comfortable in the office?
When the nurse takes you back to the exam room, ask how to get your medications refilled. How do you call in if you need medical advice between appointments? In every practice where I’ve worked, all of our medical assistants had voicemail which they checked regularly during office hours when they were not with other patients. Patients felt reassured. They knew that they would get same-day answers to their questions. I also educated my patients that my medical assistant and I were a team and that in order not to take time away from their visits, my medical assistant would be responding to their calls after consulting with me. In Qatar, medications are not refilled by phone and almost no one has voicemail. You will likely have to go in for an appointment every time you need a refill.
When you meet the doctor, observe body language and communication style. Does the doctor seem approachable or is she talking at you? Do you click with her? If you do not feel connected cross her off your list. Do not feel any obligation or guilt about this. It is your health! You are a consumer, with rights. If you still have questions about the particular practice, ask the doctor. Also ask the doctor if he has a particular interest or experience in your condition. Remember there is usually a time limit to these introductory free appointments so use your time well. If you live in Qatar or abroad, you may just have to schedule an actual appointment to do your initial evaluation.
Also observe: does the doctor wash his hands? In a meet and greet, the doctor may not necessarily wash his hands since an exam will not take place. I wash my hands twice—when I enter the room, and when I am finished with the exam.
Over ten years ago, a popular ladies magazine advised patients to look at their doctors’ hands for nail cleanliness and appearance. On a typical office day, I wash my hands approximately 60 times. I could have a manicure in the morning and my nails would still chip and fray by the end of the day. And note: A doctor who performs surgeries is not supposed to wear nail polish or acrylic nails. So check for cleanliness, yes, but nail beauty? No.
If you follow the above guidelines, you will be on your way to finding a good doctor to form a lasting relationship with. Trust your instincts and Good Luck!