In my work as an elder care advocate I am often asked to recommend a physician and frequently hear the challenges families face with finding the right physician for their needs. Until my late twenties I did not have a primary care physician (PCP) who I saw on a regular basis. I religiously kept my well women visits with my Ob-Gyn, but never with a PCP. I was one of those women who never got sick, lived at the gym, and had a youthful metabolism that allowed me to love my skinny black dress and ice cream. Why did I need a primary care physician? Well…pregnancy, life, and maturity changed all that!
As an Occupational Therapist I knew plenty of doctors and interacted with physicians on a regular basis. But when I found myself seeking a primary care physician I really was not looking forward to it. For many reasons, both professional and personal, I did not want to be bothered. When push came to shove, I figured my health is one of my most important assets and I wanted to hire the right person to help me manage it; so I approached it like a job interview.
The first step I took was talking with friends and family about local doctors they recommend. I got a couple of names and reviewed their profiles using the physician referral hotlines at the local hospital. The physician referral operator told me information about their medical schools, their residences, provided information about their group medical practices, and she informed me of the insurance plans the doctors accepted. Of the physicians I checked out I chose one and made an appointment with him. The office staff was kind, the waiting and examining rooms appeared clean, and he had a cordial beside manner even when he told me that at 30 I need not worry about my occasional heart palpitations although a massive heart attack killed my dad at age 38 when I was two weeks old. I calmly stated my disagreement and engaged in a brief bantering which amounted to no real alternative causes except coffee, soda, or chocolate (which I didn't consume at all or very little) or stress (who isn't). After that, I didn’t say another word but the voice in my head screamed “You are SO Fired!”
I shared this experience with a close family member with similar expectations and personality as my own. He recommended his doctor who I have been with ever since and have recommended several people seeking his brand of interaction and medical management.
In hindsight I realize that I, like many patients, had initially made the assumption that a doctor recommended by someone I know will be the right doctor for me. While friends and family are a good place to start, be forewarned that "House, M.D." might be your girlfriend’s cup of tea but "Trapper John, M.D." might be just what you need. The reality is that finding a “good” doctor and finding the right doctor for you is not necessarily the same thing.
There are medical circumstances when having a doctor well versed in your medical condition and its treatment is all that matters. There are other times when building a relationship with a competent and engaging medical professional is what you seek. From my primary care physician I needed that type of relationship. I was able to seek and find it when I solidified in my mind the kind of doctor-patient interaction I needed. The success of a doctor-patient relationship is dependent upon a reciprocating ability to freely express concerns and be heard. I needed a teacher; someone who was willing to answer my questions, was open to explaining his/her assessment, and presented research-based alternative explanations and solutions. That works for me.
As an elder care consultant the advice I provide seniors and their caregivers when searching for a primary care physician is to first equip themselves with a sound knowledge of their own expectations, learning styles, life-stage philosophies, personality types, and communication preferences. It is unfair to you and your doctor to ask that either of you conform to fundamentally divergent philosophies and expectations. This knowledge should help you screen referrals from friends, family, and professionals, and should inform the questions asked during your interview(s) before you commit to a first appointment with a new primary care physician.
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