Dr. Jeff Kane: Choosing a doctor
Friends sometimes ask me to recommend a doctor for them. I’m retired, so there are new docs I don’t know, and the ones I do know and favor aren’t taking new patients. So my friends are essentially hunting in the dark, and to make things worse, a doctor they like might not be covered by their insurance.
A few strategies are available, though. The least effective is to throw darts at the “physicians” section of your Yellow Pages and hope for the best. A step up from that is checking the online reviews offered by a horde of websites. Like restaurant reviews, most consist of a few five-star ratings, a few one-star, and the majority in between. And then there are the passionate, uniformly negative critiques that read like war crime indictments. At the other end are reviews that amount to a uniform parade of praise, and they ought to grab your attention.
Meeting a prospective doctor in person is the most reasonable and effective strategy. Specifically, you can ask to buy fifteen minutes of the doctor’s time in order to simply get acquainted. After all, even speed dating in person is better than online or nothing at all. Most doctors interested in patients will accept your request, and you can cross off your list those who decline.
My friend Millie needed a specialist, so she and her husband Harold interviewed three prospects. The first spent most of the allotted time complaining about Medicare reimbursement. They quickly excused themselves. They ruled out the second when he walked into the room, introduced himself to Harold, and only then noticed the patient. The third refused Millie’s request for Harold to accompany her in the examining room. They finally found a doctor who, they told me, took his time, was courteous, appropriate, and compassionate, and Millie reports that he gave her excellent care.
I assume the ones they turned down were medically competent, but anyone who’s been a patient knows there’s more to healthcare than technique. We’re putting nothing less than our well-being on the line, so most of us want to feel like the doctor is as interested in us as in our disorder.
How can we do as well as Millie in our own search? A retired orthopedist friend offered me an enthralling suggestion. He advised rating candidates on a “Three A” scale: Amiability, Accessibility, and Ability — in exactly that order. Amiable: do the two of you get along well? Accessible: is the doc reachable, intelligible, and conscientious? Able: can the doc get the physical job done?
I’ve heard patients say, “I don’t care if my doctors are warm and fuzzy. I just want them to do it right.” They’re short-changing themselves. We don’t need to choose between competence and a healthy relationship. We can have it all.
Jeff Kane is a physician and writer in Nevada City.
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