8 Signs You Need to Get a New Doctor
Is your gut giving you bad vibes about your current physician? Here’s what to do when your doctor disappoints.
Switching physicians can sound like an intimidating task, but staying with a doctor you're not happy with is just as dangerous as staying in a toxic relationship. Your health is too important to feel blindsided, so if you’re having second thoughts, parting ways may be the healthiest move. Before you get into physician-search mode and plunge into the vast world of medical jargon, it's important to analyze whether a big change is the best step for you. Here are some surefire signs it's time to make the switch, straight from the experts themselves.
Some patients like doctors who are very direct and blunt, especially when it comes to recommending a certain treatment or giving the results of a test. However, if you want a partnership, a doctor who only spouts commands isn’t the best fit. A doctor’s office is clinical enough without having an unsympathetic, distant physician too.
Do you routinely have to wait an hour to see your doctor? Do they speed-diagnose you when they finally do? An occasional delay is excusable―if, for instance, your OB-GYN had to perform an emergency C-section and the office kept you posted on her expected return. But "any wait over 30 minutes is grounds for, at the least, walking out and rescheduling," says Karen Hickman, a corporate etiquette consultant and a former nurse in Fort Wayne, Indiana. That said, consistent promptness isn't common. According to a study from Vitals’ 9th annual Physician Wait Time Report, the average wait time for a doctor in America currently stands at 18 minutes. "If you choose to wait, ask the receptionist if the doctor is in the office and running late or if he's out of the office," suggests Pamela Gallin, the author of How to Survive Your Doctor's Care. When he does appear, ask if there's anything you can do to minimize the delay next time. If the doctor admits to frequently running behind and being on time is important to you, it might be time to look for a new doctor, says Vicki Rackner, a surgeon in Mercer Island, Washington.
Test results should be delivered in a prompt, clear, and respectful way. Anything less merits a complaint to your doctor. If the doctor doesn't apologize, consider looking for one whose office is run more professionally. For instance, some offices have stated policies that they'll mail good news and call with bad. If you'd prefer to stick with the doctor, bring a self-addressed, stamped envelope to your appointments and request that your results be mailed to you.
Disciplinary actions aren't always cause for alarm. A doctor can be disciplined for small offenses, such as refusing to provide a patient with medical records in a timely manner. However, large ones, like negligence during surgery, may be a reason for concern. You can look up a doctor's history of disciplinary actions at Castle Connelly's website, which provides links to all 50 state medical boards. If you find that action has been taken, don't be shy about asking the doctor about it. If the record makes you uncomfortable, it's time to leave.
Ask yourself if you trust the doctor and her competence. Let's say your new gynecologist suggests you get Botox. After you recover from the sting of the remark, "if you're impressed with a doctor's ability, try to overlook subtleties in personality," says Mehmet Oz, the vice chairman of surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. If you want to continue under her care, you could let her know that you don't appreciate her comment, or you could just ignore it. If, on the other hand, this is a first visit and the abrasive comment has you reeling because you haven't yet established a trusting relationship, find another capable doctor. "You need to be treated by a doctor you trust and respect," says Rackner.
This isn’t necessarily grounds for dumping—unless, of course, you've heard that the same thing has happened to other patients or the doctor has missed something obvious. If the misdiagnosis wasn't serious, take note of how your doctor reacts after the accurate diagnosis is made, whether it comes after more tests or is another doctor's opinion. "When I make a mistake, I tell the patient and the family," says Oz. But if your doctor makes excuses, they may not be someone you want tending to your health.
Doctors shouldn't meddle in your affairs. Many doctors will casually inquire about your personal life―upcoming vacations, your kids, your job―but they should avoid topics unrelated to your visit. "If a doctor makes a comment that you feel is too personal, simply say, 'I'd like to separate my social life from my health care,'" says Patricia Raymond, a gastroenterologist in Chesapeake, Virginia. You may have to decide whether the quality of care outweighs tactlessness.
Some alternative therapies have proven health benefits, so a doctor who discredits them entirely is probably not staying current. "Half of what a doctor learns in medical school is proven incorrect by the time his career has ended," says Oz. If you're happy with your doctor, ask if an alternative therapy will interfere with any conventional treatment you're receiving. If the doctor says it's fine, leave it at that. If you feel the doctor's lack of interest is a sign of a larger failure to stay medically up-to-date, then it may be time to move on.