Shhhhhh be vewy, vewy quiet, I’m hunting doctows! You know those skittish creatures whom we rely upon, too heavily at times, for answers? You have to be very careful, for this species is prone to avoidance and double talk if you ask too many direct questions. It is rare to find one in their natural habitat, white lab coats and sterilized walls, who will actually give it to you straight. The poor things have been sued to death and threatened by insurance companies so that they are fearful of making a move, even if it is the right one. The elusive Dr who is not afraid to take the time to communicate with you and actually get to the bottom of what is going on is a rare species indeed. Join me as I prepare for my latest hunting trip.
Hunting doctors takes patience. You must be willing to wait for months, even years, before you find the right “fit.” On the off-chance that you encounter the perfect fit don’t hesitate, establish a working relationship as quickly as possible for these mysterious individuals are prone to disappear seemingly right before you eyes. This rare creature is definitely hard to come by. The best doctors are well hidden using the reasoning that they are not accepting new patients. You must also beware of the medical professional who puts on a good face during your first meeting only to give you the brush off in subsequent appointments. It may take several visits with the hunted for the hunter to establish whether or not the right match is found. Don’t be afraid to run away from doctors who appear threatening, complacent, or downright unsympathetic. Finally, at all costs, run like mad if you meet up with one who insists that the pain you’re experiencing is all in your head!
Come armed with questions. The more questions you ask the better and don’t limit your questions to the subject of your health. In order to ascertain whether or not you are going to get along with your mark you will need to know a little about how they operate. Load that “question rifle” with as many questions as you can manage. If they answer your barrage of questions with patience and a smile, it may be a good indicator as to whether or not they are willing to spend an appropriate amount of time with you at each appointment. You want to feel as if the effort it takes to make the trip and the money you shell out to pay the bill is equal to the amount of time spent. Some good ammunition might be:
¤ How much time do you set aside for each patient visit and are you willing to be flexible based on the immediate needs of your patient?
¤ Do you remember that your patients are your customers and act accordingly?
¤ What are your basic philosophies when managing pain?
¤ Are you willing to think outside the box, for instance, if a lab test comes back “normal” but I am still suffering, will you dismiss me or help me find the root of the problem?
¤ After meeting with you, is it your common practice to pass me off to a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant to open your time up for other patients?
¤ If this is your practice, do you communicate with them appropriately so that you are all on the same page?
¤ Are you willing to listen to my whole story from start to finish so that I feel that I can get the care that I truly need and deserve?
¤ Can you willingly work with my other medical health professionals in a collaborative manner?
¤ Are you willing to refer me to the appropriate doctor if you’re unable to help me?
These are just a few questions you might consider arming yourself with. I’ve also wanted to ask the following questions but have never had the chutzpah; maybe one day just to see their reaction:
¤ If you make me wait more than 15 minutes past our appointment time will you pay my $25 rescheduling fee that I’d like to charge for my time and trouble?
¤ If I make an appointment with you but end up seeing your nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant will you discount my bill?
¤ If you cancel with less than 24 hours notice will you pay my $75 no-show fee?
Oh to see them dance around those questions. *snicker*
It is possible to outgrow a good doctor. Many times I have found that, while I once had fond feelings toward my target, as time progresses I feel as if they’ve outlived their usefulness. They may be nice individuals but, when it comes to my health and well-being, I must look upon the relationship as a professional one. They are providing me a service for which I pay A LOT of money, so if they’re no longer meeting my needs I must break all ties and begin the hunt afresh. At this time it would be wise to obtain a personal copy of all of your medical records. Any new doctor worth his weight in the extensive paper trail that follows me would ask for them anyway. It is much easier to have access to my personal copies than to request that they send them to a new doctor. This also helps in alleviating any of those awkward “breakup” feelings that may arise when you are asked to call your old doctor for access to said records.
Sometimes you just have to try, try again. Usually you have a feel for how you might get along with a doctor within the first few minutes of meeting them. Follow your gut, so to speak, it knows the way! If you’re sitting with a professional and you get the feeling that he’s rolling his eyes behind your back and laughing at the nurse’s station at the “crazy hypochondriac” in room 5, then leave a dust trail as you dash away. (OK – maybe you’re hobbling away, but hobble quickly…) Beware of doctors who like to contradict everything you say. These individuals are more worried about their egos than your good health. You may need to put on your waders and cast your line several times until you catch a doctor suited to your needs. Keep in mind that you are trying to cater to no one but yourself so even if they seem kind, if they ultimately don’t listen, and can’t or won’t help you, the time has come to try catching a fish downstream.
Don’t get discouraged. You may see many enticing targets that seem all shiny and helpful when first encountered but ultimately need to be left alone before acquiring your goal. Keep the faith; the right doctor is out there, hiding in the brush… we hope! It is easy to feel as though no one is listening or that finding a Dr who treats you as a human being, a person with feelings and a life outside of sickness, is nearly impossible. It may take several years before the right one comes along, but when they do it is worthy of a choir of angels I tell you! Upon these extraordinary finds you finally receive the validation you’ve been searching for in your quest to alleviate your pain and suffering. Finally, someone who looks at you not with pity, but with real interest and maybe even a little sympathy as you describe your plight. A doctor who takes you seriously and listens as you recount your symptoms and then makes an intelligent diagnosis may prove challenging to find. He or she may be well camouflaged, but have no fear, the more practiced a hunter you are the easier they will be to spot. When you do find that shiny new and helpful doctor you will revel in the glory of the successful hunt.
In all seriousness, I’ve been frustrated by some of the experiences I’ve had with both my rheumatologist and primary care physician lately. I have felt a sense of loyalty toward my rheumatologist in particular and making the decision to change has been a difficult one. He was, after all, the first Dr who truly listened to me and finally took the time and made the effort to accurately diagnose me. His offices are roughly an hour away from where I live but I was willing to make that drive in order to have him manage my treatment plan. As of late, however, when making an appointment with him I manage the journey only to discover that I’ll be meeting with one of his associates. And by associates I don’t mean another Dr in the office, rather his nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. Don’t get me wrong, there are some doctors on my list where I would much rather meet with their physician’s assistant. If they are good at what they do and communicate well with their Dr, an NP or PA can be invaluable. For example, my endocrinologist is an abrupt and, frankly, rude individual but his PA is amazing. My rheumy, on the other hand, does not communicate well with his associates and so I find that my appointments are more of an exercise in frustration and irritation than actual help and answers.
I’m also looking for a new primary care physician. I need someone who will take the time to manage the relationship between the many specialists that I see. Let’s face it, between the urologist, gynecologist, otolaryngologist, neurologist, endocrinologist, rheumatologist, gastroenterologist, dermatologist, even my ophthalmologist and dentist, I need some serious coordination. The problem is that each specialist is concerned only with their specialty and often they end up contradicting each other. One will say, “Try this drug for this problem…” while the other cries foul saying, “this drug will make this or that symptom worse…” Although primary care physicians are literally a “dime a dozen” here in the states, this can be the toughest one to find. The problem? They all FORGET they are a dime a dozen. My humble opinion is that they become complacent in the way they treat their patients forgetting that at any moment we can choose to find someone else. Sadder still WE become complacent with our own care and don’t make the effort to find someone else. We feel a misplaced sense of devotion which raises irrational guilt feelings when we feel that maybe we ought to make a change.
Well I declare, NO MORE COMPLACENCY on their part or mine! I am on the hunt so beware doctors! I’m putting on my bright orange hunting vest, loading my rifle with questions, and hiking… well shuffling through the brush to find you. I’ve decided to take my time and be a picky customer even if you roll your eyes at me as I walk away. I hope your eyes get stuck in the back of your head because we’re talking about my life here, not yours, and I want it back. I’m on a journey to reclaim my life and take control of my health care destiny. I realize that my expectations will need to shift and I will need to make adjustments in how I manage my day-to-day activities, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t fight for the best care available to me. If that doesn’t include you, well too bad for you then because I’ll just take my extensive medical history, my smiling face… oh, and my money elsewhere.
EHHHH, WHAT’S UP DOC?