If I had listened to the first doctor, I wouldn’t be here today.
You probably wouldn’t buy a new car without researching it first and looking at a few options. But people do that with doctors all the time. A 2008 study of how people choose their doctors found that only just over a third used multiple sources of information to choose a new specialist. The study found that people were most likely to rely exclusively on a referral by their primary care physician to find a specialist or to ask friends for a new primary care doctor.17
In addition, once people choose a doctor, they are very unlikely to change providers. This relatively passive behavior is completely understandable; medical information can feel so overwhelming. Starting with a referral from a friend or your primary care physician is a great practice. However, if you want to find the provider with the most skills, experience, and success dealing with your health condition, some more legwork may be necessary. Here are four things to consider as you look for the best doctor for you:
Airlines publish their on-time data. Car dealers provide some safety information. Yet, people often hesitate to ask doctors about their track record. You (or your health insurance) are paying this person and you are trusting them with your life. You deserve to know how they have performed so far. How many patients with Lyme disease have they treated and with what success rate? How many Parkinson’s patients do they have, generally how symptomatic are those patients, and why?
It can feel uncomfortable to ask these questions. Bringing a friend or relative to appointments for moral support can make it easier. There are also many Web sites that provide patient reviews or background information regarding certification and malpractice history. Check out www.EverydayHealingforYou.com/tools for an updated list.
When companies hire new employees, they always ask for references who can vouch for the quality of their work. Why shouldn’t we expect the same thing from our health-care providers? It’s a little out of the box, but it is so worth it. When I began asking health-care providers to introduce me to people with similar symptoms to mine who had achieved total, sustainable good health under their care, I made better treatment decisions immediately.
Quality of Communication
Before anybody hires someone for their team at work, they make sure that they can communicate well with them. Do the same with your health-care providers. “Studies conducted during the past three decades show that the clinician’s ability to explain, listen and empathize can have a profound effect on . . . health outcomes.”18
How well you can communicate with your doctor impacts your health. Does she answer your questions completely, respect your opinions and concerns, and explain things fully? Does she welcome your full participation and exploration of new ideas?
Quality of communication also includes the ease of working with the office. Are you able to, within reason, ask a question outside of an appointment, deal with insurance issues, get copies of test results, and make and change appointments with relative ease? If the answer to any of these questions is no, if you don’t feel completely comfortable sharing any concern or idea with your doctor and confident that you will get a thoughtful answer, it may be time to shop around.
Shared Health-care Philosophy, with a Caveat
When hiring new employees, companies look for people who share the company’s values and mission. Do the same. If your doctor turns quickly to antibiotics and surgery, while you prefer homeopathy and yoga, that’s not a match. For your main provider, look for someone who shares your health-care philosophy so that you are not at odds and constantly questioning her advice.
Here’s the exception: When seeking a new diagnosis or treatment options, it can be extremely useful to look for doctors who use approaches different from yours or from each other’s. Like Abraham Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals,” when you hear a variety of opposing views on a topic, it can help you open your mind to new ideas, clarify what rings truest for you, and collect backup options in case one method isn’t working.
Cheryl, forty, used this technique to get advice on an old knee injury that made climbing stairs painful. By consulting with a chiropractor, an orthopedic surgeon, two physical therapists, a physiatrist, and a yoga teacher, she developed a well-rounded plan of treatment that included aggressive physical therapy, yoga, orthopedic shoe inserts, and surgery as a last resort. Happily, her knee was functioning well again after four months of physical therapy and she didn’t need the surgery.
»» For Today ««
How does your current health-care team stack up when evaluated based on these criteria? Is it the best team for you or is this a good time to explore some additions or other options?
This is the 20th in a series of excerpts from the first section, Take Charge, of my new book, Everyday Healing. To start your journey on Day 1 and read the whole book: Everyday Healing: Stand Up, Take Charge and Get Your Health Back . . . One Day at a Time please visit Amazon, Barnes & Noble or your local independent bookstore to pick up your copy today.
As always, if you have any thoughts, feedback or questions, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let’s talk!
To your health,