Rx For Change

By Cheryl Clark

December 7, 2007 4 min read


It may be time to look for a new doctor

By Cheryl Clark

Copley News Service

You say your doctor made you wait more than an hour after your appointment, then spent only 10 minutes with you, mostly talking about himself?

You're insulted and you want to move on?

Welcome to the modern age of medical care.

Before you switch practitioners, however, make sure you're not jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Just because a physician or surgeon - or his or her staff - seemed uncaring on your last visit doesn't mean you hired a quack. Nor does it mean that picking another provider will result in better care.

That's the message from several doctors who have studied how their colleagues - who are good at diagnosing and treating patients - can provide better service.

A major problem is that with declining reimbursement rates, caregivers are often expected to examine 30 patients a day, depending on the health plan. That boils down to 20 minutes each in a 10-hour day. It may be that someone else's medical issues that day were more complex and urgent.

"We have a saying in medical school that patients care about the three A's," University of California San Diego family practitioner Dr. Joe Scherger said. "First 'availability.' Then 'affability.' And the third, but most important, 'ability.' We teach students they can't just rest knowing they are well-trained and capable without paying attention to the other two."

He warned patients not to reject a provider based on one negative encounter, especially if the problem was unrelated to the doctor's knowledge or competence.

But patients are faced with a decision when they have been consistently unhappy with a doctor's care, said Dr. Rosemarie Johnson, former president of the San Diego County Medical Society.

When the failure to offer timely information or lapses in courtesy are repeated and consistent, that should signal the end of the doctor-patient relationship, she said.

It's time to change: "When you can't get answers, can't reach staff in a timely fashion, can't get test results in a day or two, and when all your frustrations add up and your intuition tells you you've had enough," she said.

So if doctor hunting is in order, what should you consider? Here are a few things:

- Is the physician board certified in his field? Physicians generally regard certification as an indication the caregiver is up to date in his or her chosen specialty.

- Is the physician appropriate for your health issues and risks? For example, if you are worried because of a family history of heart disease, does the doctor have cardiology training? "If you or your family have a risk of arthritis or lupus, you'll need to see a rheumatologist. If you have a seizure disorder, a neurologist," Scherger said.

- What hospital is the physician associated with and does that system offer procedures you might need based on your family history and risk factors, such as heart surgery or chemotherapy?

- Does the physician participate in your health plan, or would you need to change plans?

- Is the doctor's office close, with convenient hours?

- Is the physician young enough to follow you into your old age? If he or she might soon retire, does the practice offer suitable backups?

Above all, Johnson said, "Be assertive in asking questions, but be assertive with a smile."

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