The doctor-patient relationship is just like any other: It requires time to grow and develop, and not each one is going to work out in the end. For many patients, deciding when to find a new physician is the most difficult task of all. Below, five essential questions to ask yourself if you’re wondering whether you’ve found the right medical match.
Do I feel like I’m on the clock?
In an ideal world, you and your doctor would be able to sit together in an exam room for as long as it takes to get to the bottom of your medical problem. In reality, with insurance payments declining, doctors often have to see a certain number of patients per day just to keep the doors open, and that may leave them only ten minutes to spend with each one. “It’s a setup for missing things. Shortened face-to-face time can certainly compromise care, but it’s the reality of today’s medicine,” says Dr. Orly Avitzur, who’s written about her own experience firing two doctor for Consumer Reports. So keep your expectations in check. The important thing is that the doctor takes your wishes into account, and develops a treatment plan to satisfy your personal needs as well as your health needs.
Have I memorized every pamphlet in the waiting room?
“There’s a direct correlation between the amount of time you spend in the office waiting and how quickly your doctor will let you come in during an emergency,” says Laura Weil, director of the Master of Arts in health-advocacy program at Sarah Lawrence. That is to say, if your doctor runs the kinds of practice that will “squeeze you in” when you wake up with the flu, you’re going to pay for that convenience next time you have an appointment and someone else gets “squeezed in.” If you don’t make many emergency doctor visits and would rather just get in and get out, go for the doc who runs a tight ship.
Is my doctor dodging my calls?
From the doctor’s perspective, this is about giving each of your patients the same treatment regardless of how juicy their insurance packages. For you, good care is all about accessibility. If you can’t get your prescriptions refilled or your calls returned within a reasonable amount of time (say 24 hours), you’re not getting the attention you deserve.
Can my cardiologist field questions about headaches?
Many primary-care physicians are now board certified in particular specialties; that is, although they’ve gone into a general practice, they have additional training and have passed certain standards in a specific area—typically internal medicine, but sometimes more specialized fields such as neurology or cardiology. If you are concerned about migraines, say, or a preexisting heart condition, you may want to find a primary-care physician who is board-certified in that area. (The American Board of Medical Specialties, abms.org, will tell you who’s certified, and websites like healthgrades.com and docboard.org make doctors’ education and malpractice histories available for free.)
Have I done my homework?
You’ve got a job to do, too. Keep track of your own prescriptions—what you’re taking, how often, and how much—as well as your drug allergies, and bring the list to your appointment. If you’re waiting on test results, find out when they’re due, and if you haven’t heard from anything by then, start calling the office, and keep a copy of them for your records. And when all is said and done, go over the treatment plan again with your doctor, just to make sure you understand each other. For Dr. Avitzur, winding up with quality care comes down to good communication. “A lot of problems can be avoided by speaking up and working on that relationship way before the time it gets to firing your doctor.”
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