According to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), cases of delayed, missed, or incorrect diagnoses are common – in the range of 10% to 20%. While some of these errors are due to misinterpretation of diagnostic tests, the more glaring issues are healthcare system-related errors and errors caused by the faulty reasoning of the healthcare provider.
The truth is, not every doctor is the best doctor. Some doctors graduate from the best medical schools with the best grades and go on to participate in the best residencies. Other doctors eke through lower-level medical schools with low grades and less competitive residencies. Still, other doctors fall somewhere in the middle, and their success hinges on their bedside manner and patient care.
As a healthcare consumer, you want to trust your doctor. This can be a difficult task, especially since every doctor-patient relationship is just that – a relationship. Not every doctor is suited for every patient, and it may take time to find the right doctor for you.
Finding the Right Doctor for You
Rather than settle for the first MD you meet, use these tips to find the best doctor for you and your health situation.
1. Seek Referrals
One of the best ways to find a high-quality doctor is simply to ask around. Donna Ross, a medical social worker and the patient support services manager at the Chris Elliott Fund, says, “First of all, word of mouth and personal referrals can be quite helpful. If it were me, I would engage in a detailed and thorough discussion about what a friend or acquaintance found to be commendable about the doctor and whether there was any room for improvement.”
That said, she warns that you should “never assume that your priorities are the same as someone else’s.” A personal referral is helpful, especially when you know you share the same values as the referrer, but ultimately it’s just a way to narrow the field.
2. Pay Attention to Care
From the time you call the doctor’s office to schedule an appointment, to the time you check out after your checkup, you need to pay attention to the service and care you receive. Doug Pitman, MD, a seasoned internist in Montana who is part of the SignatureMD network, emphasizes that “the key for finding a better doctor is finding one that has the time to focus on the short- and long-term health goals of each individual patient.”
It’s not uncommon for primary care physicians to see nearly 40 patients a day, limiting face-to-face contact with each patient to less than 10 minutes. If the office managers, nurses, or doctor seem short, rushed, or rude, you’re unlikely to feel heard when discussing your medical concerns. Look for office environments that are warm and welcoming, where everyone you come in contact with seems invested in furthering your care. When it comes to health, you don’t want to feel like just a number.
3. Research Educational Background
While it’s not necessarily the most important factor, you do want to know where your doctor studied and did his or her residency. Schools are ranked based on research or primary care, and residencies are based on specialties. For instance, as reported in US News, doctors ranked Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston as the best residency program for internal medicine.
If you’re dealing with a particular ailment or condition, you want to be sure the doctor you’re seeking out has a background that matches your concerns. Jimmy Lin, MD, PhD, MHS of Rare Genomics Institute, suggests using Doximity.com to check doctors’ training, and websites such as HealthTap.com to check doctors’ expertise in answering questions. You can also look up credentials on LinkedIn and ratings on Healthgrades.
4. Research Experience, Certifications, and Success
Beyond schooling, doctors accumulate experience and additional education while in practice, and they have the opportunity to sit for board certifications in specialties and sub-specialties of medicine. Donald W Kress, MD FACS, a board certified Plastic Surgeon and author of the book “Trust Me I’m a Plastic Surgeon,” points out, “Checking on board certification is critical, but it’s equally important to check that the doctor belongs to a legitimate and appropriate board. Check with the medical offices and the practice hospitals to see whether the doctor has been subject to suspensions or sanctions.”
5. Take Someone With You
If you have a hard time asserting yourself in a doctor’s office, or if you’re faced with a scary diagnosis, enlist a friend or family member to accompany you to your appointments. Dr. David Harrison, a staff physician at Mass General Hospital and the medical director at Best Doctors, Inc., says, “It’s hard to listen to difficult medical news and pay attention to all the details at the same time. Bring along a friend or family member to remind you of the questions you want to ask, and to help you write down important notes.” Plus, a second set of eyes and ears can help you decide whether the service and care you receive is really up to par.
6. Know What You’re Looking For
Don’t overlook the importance of simply knowing what you’re looking for. What qualifies a “good doctor” to one person may qualify as a “bad doctor” to another.
J. Todd Wagner, PT, DPT, OCS at Life Physical Therapy in Wading River, New York, points out, “Some people like a doctor who is very loose with writing prescriptions for drugs; others prefer one more conservative. Some people want their doctor to be willing to listen to them for 20 to 30 minutes, and others are impatient or busy and want to be in and out of the office fast. Be specific with yourself about your wants and needs, and shop around until you find the right person.”
He also goes on to make a distinction between primary and specialist care: “With specialists, especially surgeons, you want the best pair of hands and the best brain available, no matter how long it takes. If you have to wait three hours in a waiting room to have a visit with a renowned surgeon who will fix your heart so it’s never a problem again, then wait the three hours. Specialists are in high demand and in this day and age, you don’t want somebody who has lots of free time on his or her hands. You want someone who is busy.”
When you strip everything else in your life away, your health is what remains. And while there are preventative measures you can take to help you stay healthy, the fact is, everyone gets sick or injured occasionally. When you need a doctor’s care, you want the best care possible.
Take the time now to do your research and enlist a doctor you truly like and trust. Remember, the doctor works for you, not the other way around. Shop around until you find the best doctor possible. Another resource you can use to find a doctor and schedule an appointment online is ZocDoc.
Do you have a great doctor? How did you find him or her?