You might be surprised to hear that on occasion, I listen to rap music. As a professional musician, it’s important to stay updated with all the styles of music that are out there. In the last few months, there’s been a song stuck in my head by Eminem with Skylar Grey singing a very catchy background tag, “I need a Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, to bring me back to life.” That got me to thinking: when you need a doctor, what’s the best way to choose one?
If you simply go the Yellow Pages (do people still use them??) and look under Physicians, then you need to re-think your task because you shouldn’t pick one randomly out of the air. Choosing a doctor can be one of the most important decisions in your life, next to a spouse – and you can’t choose your biological kids. So, what do you look for?
First, check credentials to make sure your doctor is Board Certified, which means they completed an extensive training program and passed an exam specific to their field. Check out the Library for the American Medical Association’s Directory of Physicians.
Second, don’t be afraid to interview a few doctors to see which one fits with your personality and specific needs. Come prepared with written questions regarding your health issues. NEVER be afraid to ask those questions. If a doctor gets annoyed or distracted and won’t take a reasonable amount of time to discuss your problems, RUN, don’t walk, out of there.
Third, does the doctor’s office run a professional business? Is the staff courteous, efficient, and respectful of your time? There’s no need to catch up on your entire old magazine reading collection while you’re waiting for an hour or more. I can see that happening in an emergency situation, but if it is status-quo, that doctor does not know how to manage time. Will the office follow-up with test results or to see how you are doing after a procedure?
A Doctor-Patient relationship works two ways, so you have responsibilities too. Always tell the truth when filling out forms or answering questions. Some answers may be embarrassing but the doc cannot assess the situation because you are too proud or shy. I find it helpful to type out a list of current medications, vitamins, and minerals I am currently taking because you will ALWAYS be asked. If you have a chronic condition, I also find it helpful to write what I call a ‘Once Upon a Time’ story detailing when it started and everything you can remember from symptoms to other doctors’ diagnostic info. This is more accurate and also saves time.
A word about Referrals: You may already have a family physician, but when you need a specialist do you simply ask him or her for a referral? If so, you may not be getting the best care possible. Here’s how referrals work: some doctors refer other doctors because they play golf together (really?), share a condo, travel together, or because the other doc is a researcher needing patients. Also, most referrals are within a hospital system, or some other affiliated group. Think of it as a convenient marketing or advertising ploy masked as a public service. The best thing to do is ask your friends and family about their doctors and if they’re happy with the quality of care and service. Ask the doctor to whom they would send their spouse.
Remember that doctors don’t know everything and may not be up to date on current research, studies, or medications. They simply don’t have time to see patients, update records, and study medical breakthroughs. It is also quite possible that the only teaching or instruction your doctor gets about new medications is at the hands of pharmaceutical reps. If your doctor is freewheeling with samples, it’s a good indication they’re coming from pharmaceutical companies and thus, are likely to be prescribed. It is your responsibility to educate yourself to ask the correct questions. These days, patients want quick answers and solutions, (just like golf….) which sometimes aren’t feasible. That’s why doctors feel compelled to write so many prescriptions so patients can walk out of the office thinking they have a solution. Don’t fall into that quagmire…..and that goes double for depression medications. Often, when doctors don’t have an answer or when patients don’t seem to get better, they sometimes decide the ailment is ‘in your head’ and will prescribe anti-depressants. While many people insist they work, I can’t recall anyone I know ever getting off of depression meds. For people who truly have bi-polar or manic depressive issues, the meds are important to them – but that doesn’t mean they should be prescribed haphazardly because ‘nothing else’ is effective. Sometimes detective work is needed and that is neither quick nor easy. But what in life that’s worth having…..ever is?