When you're looking for a doctor, you want to be picky. Your physical health is at stake, after all. The
search for the right doctor for you can be a frustrating process full of inconvenient appointments, time spent in waiting rooms, and less-than-satisfying interactions. But if the result is someone you can trust to take care of you, it's worth it.
"Having a doctor you can openly discuss issues with is extremely important in determining what your outcome will be,"
bariatric surgeon Peter LePort, MD, tells Bustle. "When you know you can talk to your doctor, you're more likely to keep your appointments, follow his/her advice, and implement suggestions for making adjustments that are right for you." Women especially often face dismissive and judgmental comments from doctors, which makes it all the more important to find someone you feel comfortable sharing everything with and getting advice from.
If you don't know where to start, a good first step is to ask for recommendations from people you trust, look the doctor up online, see if they take your insurance, and read their reviews. Then, once you meet them, ask yourself the following questions to see if they're worth sticking with.
How Easy Are They To Reach?
If you're having a medical problem, especially one that requires immediate treatment, you want to be able to call your doctor and hear back quickly. You can often tell if this will be the case when you're in the process of making the appointment,
Neel Anand, MD, professor of orthopaedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles, tells Bustle.
"If you're having trouble booking an appointment, then waiting hours to see the doctor once you've got it, perhaps this isn't the doctor for you," he says. "Making sure this process is relatively seamless and an overall pleasant experience ensures that you'll keep your appointments and stick with the course of treatment you've been prescribed."
If you go to a doctor regularly, you'll likely be spending time on the phone and face-to-face with their staff, so make sure that interacting with them is a pleasant experience for you. Anand suggests asking: "Are they compassionate? Helpful? Knowledgeable? These are traits that patients should expect from their physicians and the people they employ. Depending on your condition and over the course of your chosen treatment, you may have several appointments wherein you'll be interacting with a doctor's staff as much as you will with the doctor."
Are They Listening To You?
If a doctor asks a question that you've already answered or makes an inaccurate statement about you, that should be a red flag. "What goes hand-in-hand with accessibility is an assessment of the physician's ability to listen, really listen to your concerns," says Anand. "If we don't allow [patients] to give us a complete picture of their overall health, we can't help them effectively maximize it. It’s best to go with the doctor who puts down the chart and actively listens to what's going on with you. You'll both be better for it."
Do They Devote Time To You?
If a doctor wants to fully understand what's going on with you, they can't rush through the appointment. "If you've waited a long time to see this person and they provide you five minutes of time, most of which is spent staring at the chart you've written your information on, you may want to consider another provider," says Anand. "As physicians, and depending upon our specialties, we're a busy bunch. But our most important time spent in a day is with our patients."
Do They Specialize In Your Condition?
If you're dealing with a specific health problem, it's better to find someone who specializes in that type of issue than to try to get that care from a primary care doctor. "Studies have shown that the more focused a doctor is in any particular area of medicine, the more skilled he or she is in that field and the better the outcomes are for his/her patients," says Anand. "If a more holistic approach is what you want to try first, look for someone who is certified by a reputable organization."
Are They Keeping Up With The Latest Research?
New findings are constantly coming out, so if your doctor isn't reading the latest research in their field, their treatment plans may be outdated. Anand recommends looking at the doctor's resume to figure this out. "The techniques one physician was taught 30 years ago have almost certainly advanced since that time, and you want to make sure that [they are] keeping pace," he says. "The information you want to look for in the CV includes current conferences the physician has attended, any current continuing education they've received, and better yet, whether they themselves have provided education to other physicians in their field by way of presenting at conferences, conducting research studies, and/or authoring journal articles and textbook chapters."
Do They Consider The Safest, Least Invasive Options First?
"If this is your first visit to a provider about your back pain, jumping to the notion you need surgery tomorrow should raise some red flags," says Anand. "What you really want is someone who will assess your condition over some period of time, trying the least invasive and disruptive approaches first. But you also want [them] to stay on top of it too. While you first want a physician to employ the most conservative methods in treatment, you should also want them to aggressively monitor progress."
Do You Like Them As A Person?
Your relationship with your doctor is a relationship, and a very intimate one, at that. LePort suggests asking: "Can you talk to him openly and honestly? Does she listen attentively to your questions? Does he answer your questions thoroughly? Do you believe she cares about your well-being? If [they do] not check all of these boxes, it is time for you to find another doctor. These may seem like questions that belong in the 'warm and fuzzy' category, but they're no less important than those you have about a doctor's skill and outcomes." If you're going to open up to them about your health concerns, you'll want someone who strikes you as a good person.
"Now more than ever, patients have come to expect and rightfully deserve a high level of service and care from their physicians," says Anand. "Don't let your standards waver. When you keep expectations high, you find better providers, and you also more often hold yourself accountable to following their prescribed treatments because you inherently trust in them. That's a win-win for you and the doctor."