Wednesday, October 27, 2010

PFAM Contributions Sought on "What Do You Look For In A Doctor?"

Please note I've corrected the publication date for this edition of PFAM to Wednesday, Nov. 10. Submissions are due by midnight Sunday, Nov. 7. Thank you!!

I almost went to the Multiple Sclerosis clinic at the local medical school a year or so ago. But it was taking forever to get in with them, and I ended up seeing a "regular" neurologist instead, who felt pretty confident I don't (yet?) have MS.

Because of my developing and ongoing symptoms that appear to be neurological, my internist persuaded me that she should refer me to the "comprehensive neurology" department at the medical school. They're the neurologists who do the intake and then, when appropriate, refer patients to the more specialized neurology clinics.

It took a month after my internist faxed over 60 pages of records about me for them to decide to accept me as a patient and call to offer me an appointment. (Yep, they actually don't accept all potential patients.) I was surprised when it turned out that they could see me in two weeks (Nov. 3) -- that just seemed so fast!

But when I got the packet of materials in the mail last week, I saw that the doctor I was assigned to was in the MS clinic. I politely called and explained that I thought there had been some confusion between my current referral and the one that had been put in about 18 months ago because my internist had told me she wanted me to be seen in the comprehensive clinic. The woman looked up my file in her computer system and said, no, it wasn't a mistake. My case had been discussed in depth at a staff meeting and they decided the MS clinic was the place I needed to be seen. Well, OK, it's good to know it wasn't a mistake, I guess. (My internist was pretty mystified too.)

So I'd already known the doctor I was assigned to is male, which is not my preference when all things are equal. But I was kind of flabbergasted to discover he graduated medical school in 2005 and was about a year into his post-residency fellowship. 

There's a trade off when it comes to doctors' experience levels. Older, more experience docs have seen many more patients and have ideally gotten very good in their chosen field. New docs are fresh from medical school, where they learned the very latest, newest theories, tests and diseases, and they haven't gotten jaded yet. There's benefits to each, and new docs have to get their experience somewhere if they're ever going to be experienced docs. 

This all got me thinking about what I want in my ideal doctors. And there are qualities I need to see in the first visit or two, or I find a different doctor. Here's what I want:

--An open-minded doctor who listens well and appreciates an intelligent patient who asks a lot of questions and does some of her own research.

--The ability to hold a conversation (years ago, I had a doc who literally would run out of the room to avoid questions) and to at least appear to care, by which I guess I mean she shows empathy.

--These days, I look for docs who are willing to take on challenging cases, who perhaps even like them. It's clear I need someone who won't give up easily on figuring out a puzzle.

--Personality and good bedside manner mean more to me than getting the smartest guy in the country. I believe doctors who have empathy for their patients do a better job in the long run. (Although I wouldn't refuse to see the smartest guy in the country if he also met my other criteria! Being smart doesn't rule out empathy and communication.)

--Doctors who aren't afraid to say they don't know what illness I have and are willing to work with other specialists to try to figure it out. There are way too many doctors out there who accuse their patients of being psychosomatic rather than work hard to figure out the underlying problems. (And I'm lucky -- I haven't had that happen to me. But I've met way too many people online who had that happen, sometimes multiple times, before they finally found the doctor willing to look further and ended up with a diagnosis that wasn't psychiatric.)

I know everyone has their own criteria that they look for when needing a new doctor. So for the next Patients For A Moment blog carnival, which I am hosting here on Nov. 10, I'd like to hear what you like in a doctor and, just as importantly, what you don't like in them. If you've got an awesome doctor, blog about what makes him/her the perfect fit for you. I'd also love to hear about those awful doctors that we should all avoid -- what makes them so bad? What exactly did you hate? If you're still looking for Dr. Right, what's on your criteria list?

To participate in the blog carnival, please send the following no later than midnight on Sunday, Nov. 7 to me at

1. Your name (as it should appear)
2. Your blog’s name
3. Your post’s title
4. Your post’s URL 

Thank you!! And don't forget to come back on Nov. 10 to see the contributions!!

Meanwhile, go check out the current edition of PFAM over at Glass of Win, where Rachael asked folks to write about advice they would like to give medical students and/or professionals. There are some great posts worth your time to read!


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