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Finding The Right Doctor

Originally published
Originally published: 2/1/2008

Physicians work for you. Make sure you are comfortable with the relationship — your health depends on it.

Most of the time we are very aligned in our thinking as it pertains to health issues. However, as a man and woman, sometimes we can't help but approach things differently. We almost always come to the same conclusion, but our reasoning paths are sometimes quite varied.

For example, how we approach finding a physician who is right for us often follows very different paths. There are qualities that may appeal to one person, but don't matter much to another person. Similar to finding the right contractor, finding the right doctor will make a world of difference when it comes to maintaining your health. And, yes, physicians need physicians, too.

What To Look For In A Physician — A Male Perspective

As a male physician, I would choose someone who is intelligent, easy to communicate with, concise and available. I also look for efficiency and level headedness. A physician who takes a conservative approach to routine problems is desirable, as opposed to one who orders multiple tests and consults with other doctors for seemingly routine issues. I want a physician who will make a reasonable decision based on my history and current condition — not someone who will send me to a pulmonologist if I come in with a cough during cold season.

Another red flag that the doctor is not right for me is someone who does not listen. If a doctor doesn't do a thorough history and decides immediately to send you to a specialist, he is not really listening to you. A thorough exam that pertains to the problem is paramount.

Your primary care physician should be able to process most of your complaints and diagnose and treat most primary problems (coughs, abnormal bowel movements, diarrhea, common aches and pains, etc.) A good doctor will listen to you, perform a physical exam and offer a treatment regime. They also will tell you what to look for if your health is not getting better and what to do from there. Difficult-to-diagnose problems and complex issues that are unresolved or hard to manage require a specialist.

Once a thorough history and exam have been completed, only then should the decision be made to seek a specialist's opinion. We rely on our primary care physician for their ability to help maintain our health and to screen for more serious illnesses. It is important that they know when to refer a patient to a specialist. I want to know that my doctor will refer me to the best facility he or she knows of for whatever test I need. I want to hear that if I need to be referred, the person he is sending me to is top notch. This is what you entrust your physician to do for you. Your relationship with your doctor should be strong enough to know that he will only send you to a specialist that he would go to himself.

Additionally, I want my physician to be connected enough that I can get the best care possible and that he or she can facilitate this.

As a surgeon, I also would like to stress the importance of knowing that your doctor is confident. Outright arrogance is not good, but confidence that comes from knowledge and experience is critical. You can ascertain this by assessing the surgeon's ability to explain what he is going to do for you. It is fair to ask the doctor if he is comfortable with the procedure, how many he has performed and his general outcomes and results. The surgeon should be able to clearly answer any question that pertains to your potential surgery and post operative course. If you are not comfortable with any of this, then I would consider a second opinion.

What To Look For In A Physician — A Female Perspective

As a doctor, I have always said that I am looking for a "doctor's doctor." Those of us who are physicians know how difficult it is to take care of a doctor or his or her family member. I have vast medical knowledge, but I am aware that I cannot be objective with my own health. Therefore, I am looking for someone who has at least as much knowledge as I have and who exhibits common sense. A physician cannot possibly know everything and he or she needs to be cognizant of this. I would much rather have a doctor tell me, "I don't know the answer," or "I will research that and get back to you," than tell me that this is the way it is because this is the way it is!

When I teach medical students and residents, I explain that it is OK to lack knowledge about a specific topic as long as you are aware of this deficit. This is what keeps a physician on top of things and it is what stimulates ongoing learning. A complacent physician may miss things. You can look for that trait and use your senses. Ask many questions of your doctor and really listen to the answers. Does he or she seem to be current?

The Internet is a wonderful place for a patient to gain medical knowledge — particularly as it pertains to our own health issues. A good physician should not be put off by this. In fact, they can use this as a tool to help further educate you. This can be a good way to ascertain whether or not your physician is keeping current. A physician who educates his or her patient is actually helping them take charge of their health.

Another way good physicians help patients take charge of their health — ensuring comfort. I want to feel comfortable in the exam room with the doctor and not feel rushed.

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