The following is my opinion based on my 20+ years of nursing experience in the US, and the fact that I spend a “hella-lot” of time in doctor’s offices with my 85-year-old mother and mother-in-law. If you live outside the US, things may be different.
My personal feeling is, the number of “great” doctors is dwindling down to nothing in the US. By “great”, I mean one that has:
- intelligence without arrogance
- respect for what the patient wants
- willingness to listen
- a reluctance to pull out the prescription pad
- and a good bedside manner.
It might be easier to catch a cloud and pin it down than find a doctor like that.
More and more, I am seeing doctors whose arrogance and incompetence factor is off the charts. I am seeing doctors who are much more interested in seeing as many patients as possible in order to make the rent in that fancy high-rise, than treating those patients properly. Now of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and I’m sure there are those of you who know some. If you do, keep the name to yourself…..or he/she will become too busy to see you!
I’m sure we can speculate on why doctors can be so terrible: the increased demands, keeping up with the ever-changing and advancing world of medicine, and the fact that they don’t teach doctors certain things they should know (like about basic nutrition and human interaction skills). I also find it very interesting, but not surprising that drug companies are major contributors to medical schools. No one graduates med school or practices medicine without some “gifts” from the oh-so-generous pharmaceutical manufacturers. (that’s a whole other post…pah-leaze!)
This post is about how you can spot a “bad” physician quickly, and what things to look for when finding a “good” one.
See if your doctor is guilty of any of the following:
- 1. Has the doctor ever been sued for malpractice or have any outstanding legal issues? For US doctors, you can find this by going to the State Medical Board web site and typing in the doctor’s name. (google this : medical board.the state the doctor is in.gov) They will tell you if there are any suits in the past or pending. It will also tell you where they went to school, and how long they’ve been in practice. Click here to see a map and details about the uber-bad doctors. Those with criminal records or those who show up drunk to the ER.
- 2. When you call to make an appointment for your first visit, you should eventually be directed to a live person, not a machine. You should be able to ask this person basics about the doctor–how long has this person been practicing, when did they join the group, etc. If the person says “I dunno” and is rude and doesn’t deal with you professionally, think twice. If you’re sick or need test results in the future, this is who you’ll be dealing with. Quality doctors hire quality office staff.
- 3. You can tell this is going to be bad if you walk in the waiting room and it is packed. That means he/she probably isn’t going to see you when your appointment time is. I take this as a direct form of disrespect for the patients and the value of their time.
- 4. Does the doctor greet you with “Good morning Ms. Smith, nice to meet you” or is it “OK, so why are you here?” If they’re rushed, they are not thinking about the best way to treat you, just the fastest way.
- 5. Does the Dr wash his/her hands when they enter the room? Is there even a sink to wash in the exam room? If you don’t think this is important, think about what body part the doctor was examining in the previous room before he/she shook your hand…..
- 6. When you are telling the doctor your symptoms, are they engaged in what you are saying? or are they looking at their phone or reading your chart? Your past medical information should be reviewed before they go into the room so they can focus on the current problem.
- 7. When you mention an article that you read on the internet, do they roll their eyes and get defensive? do they generalize by saying “you can’t believe the stuff you read on the web!”? They should be able to give their opinion on what you read without thinking you’re a pain in the rump for trying to be informed about your own health. They should also be open, not instantly dismissive to alternative forms of treatment, or at least know what they are.
- 8. If they need to order tests, are they explained in detail giving the reason why the test is being performed, if there are any side effects, and when you should get the results? or do they say “I’m ordering some tests. See the receptionist on the way out for instructions.”
- 9. Are you called with all your test results? whether they are normal or not? Don’t accept the “if it’s normal we won’t call you” line. How do you know they even sent your test to the lab? There is no reason you should not be notified with your results by a qualified health professional who has the brains and knowledge to discuss the results with you. Here’s a recent conversation I had with my Dad’s doctor’s office staff:
not-old-enough-to-vote-girl staff: “I have your Dad’s blood work from last week and it shows something not right. The doctor wants him to take iron pills.”
me: “ok what did it show?”
noetvg staff: “Um….the hem…hembloo….heem…
noetvg staff: “yeah! That’s it!. That was low.”
me: (knowing full well what this means) “What does that mean?”
noetvg staff: “um….it has something to do with the blood.”
me (after having enough fun): Can you have the doctor call me?
noetvg staff: Oh, no. you can’t speak with the doctor. I can have a nurse call you.
Which brings me to #10:
- 10. Are you told you cannot speak directly with the doctor? There is no reason that you can’t talk to the person you have hired to manage your health. If you are directed to a nurse, ask the nurse to have the doctor call you in a reasonable amount of time. For non-emergencies, give it a day or two. If you can’t get them on the phone in several days, ditch them.
- 11. Does the doctor whip out the prescription pad before you even get out all your symptoms? The drug companies rule the medical field these days. They fund the studies that say their drugs are the best, then sell the doctors on this idea. The drug companies have now turned directly to the patient through TV and internet ads (if you haven’t noticed) and they make it sound like you need their drugs to be happy. Sometimes drugs are necessary, but they are also the quick way to get you out of the exam room, and get the next patient in.
- 12. Does the doctor respect your wishes? That is, if you choose not to take that drug that he/she wants to prescribe, do they shove it in your face, use scare tactics, or refuse to see you again? I took my Mom to the doctor, and she wanted to prescribe injections for osteoporosis, (a common condition in post menopausal women that causes the bones to become brittle.) My mom looked up the side effects which includes bone cancer and osteonecrosis, which is jaw bone deterioration, and is choosing not to take it. Every time she sees my Mom in the office for any reason, she uses scare tactics and tells her she is not doing the right thing. “Over 20% of people that break their hip at your age DIE, did you hear me? They DIE! This is serious! You are taking a huge risk! What would happen if you broke your hip?! If you broke your back you would be in constant pain!” (I was biting my lip because my mom really likes this gal, but it was hard to sit through)
Finding a good doctor while you are well, for regular check ups, means having that good doctor when you really need them. I can tell you from going through a major illness, that having confidence in who is treating you and being able to have a relationship with them in order to understand, ask questions, and challenge them, can make all the difference in how well you do (or don’t do) in recovery.
Try to find yourself or your loved one a “great” doctor. It may take some time, but it may also make things easier down the line.
I would love to hear your good doctor/bad doctor stories.