Why this patient recommends her family physician

“Do you know a good doctor?” is a question tossed around in conversation sometimes.  If the person is reasonably nice/intelligent, I’m happy to hand out my doctor’s name and phone number.

Recently, I referred more friends to my all-time favorite doctor.  Instead of just taking his name and phone number, the couple wanted to know why I like him.  That’s a fair enough question.

First, he’s a family physician.  Family practice physicians are my favorite kind of doctor. After finishing medical school, they don’t promptly forget most of the information they worked so hard to learn.  The use that information to treat their patients.   My doctor delivers babies, does vasectomies and biopsies, removes lumps, takes an EKG if symptoms warrant it, casts broken bones, injects steroids into inflamed tendons/bursa, and sews fingers back on.  I love seeing a doctor who specializes in providing comprehensive medical care for the whole family.  He has to be a great diagnostician because he might see anything.

That said, my friends were sold on seeing a family physician.  Their next question was what sets my doctor apart from all the others?  They wanted something more specific than, “I really like him.”

First, he runs his practice well.  These are not in order of importance:

  1. People, not machines, answer the phones.
  2. The staff is cheerful, nice, and polite.  They smile, remember people’s names, and are people you’d actually want to spend time with (unlike some places, where it seems the staff has been sucking pickles).  I’ve never heard them speak disparagingly of patients.  Patients are treated with respect.
  3. The staff is helpful.  For instance, when I asked how to go about getting a copy of part of my chart, the person hopped up and said, “I can get that for you right now.  What do you need?”  When patients with a walker or wheelchair needs to go downstairs, there’s always someone right there with the elevator key.  I’ve never seen patients have to ask; the help is automatic.
  4. There are a few same-day appointments saved for urgent issues.  Since there will always be calls for same-day problems, saving a few spots in the schedule seems like an efficient way to keep things running a little more smoothly.
  5. There’s a sign in the lobby stating, If you have been waiting more than 15 minutes past your appointment time, please see the receptionist.  They really try not to fall too far behind, but when it happens, they let people know.
  6. On those rare occasions that I need to phone the doctor’s office, the nurse calls back promptly.  In fifteen years, I’ve only had one call that wasn’t returned on the same day.  That’s a pretty good record!
  7. When appointments are made, the receptionist is clear whether you’ll be seeing the MD or the NP.  I’ve been other places where I didn’t learn until I was in the exam room that the appointment wasn’t with the doctor, but someone else.
  8. The practice doesn’t bill until after insurance has processed claims.
  9. The practice accepts my insurance.  I like my doctor enough that I’d try to still see him if he stopped taking insurance, but I don’t know if that would be financially possible (and hope I don’t have to find out).
  10. If there’s a credit on my family’s account, the billing person sticks a post-it note in the chart of whoever has the next appointment, and they tell us that we don’t owe a co-pay.  This doesn’t happen everywhere.  I appreciate honesty.

A well-run office is nice, but the doctor needs to be good, too.

  1. Whether I’m the first appointment in the morning or the final appointment in the afternoon, my doctor is pleasant, calm and acts as though he has all the time in the world.  Before finding his practice, I once saw a doc who rushed into the exam room, coat-tails flapping behind him, as he dictated notes from the previous patient; that entire appointment was a bit like being hit by a whirlwind.  I prefer calm.
  2. My doctor listens without interrupting.
  3. He leaves the room when patients are undressing.  This seems like an obvious thing to do, but I’ve heard of doctors who expect patients to disrobe in front of an audience.
  4. My doctor focuses on what he’s doing.  Sometimes he’ll pause to write things down, then resume the conversation.  Other times he brings a scribe into the room so that everything is documented and he can focus on talking with me instead of stopping to writing in the chart.
  5. He doesn’t ask me for information that’s clearly already in his possession.  When he doesn’t remember details on something, he pauses and looks back through the chart to refresh his memory.  No guessing and getting it wrong.  He checks.
  6. If something is unclear, he asks for clarification.
  7. He explains things so thoroughly that he usually answers most of my questions before I voice them.  This, I believe, comes from experience in dealing with people, and wanting to help.  He knows the types of questions people have about various conditions, and addresses those issues so patients know what to expect.
  8. He once apologized.  For something that wasn’t even his fault.
  9. He asks if I still have questions, and he answers those questions fully.  Cheerfully.  Unhurriedly.
  10. If he doesn’t know something, he admits it and says he’ll look it up.  And does.
  11. He never acts like I’m taking too much time.  Even if I am.*
  12. I’ve checked all the online doctor-rating sites.  Most people feel the same way I do.  Only one negative comment, and it was from someone upset that his chart noted he’d cussed out the nurse and the doctor told him that wouldn’t be tolerated.  I don’t really see that as a negative; I think bosses (medical or any other field) should support their staff.
  13. The doctor explains abnormal test results clearly and explains what can be done to address the problem.
  14. He writes referrals when appropriate, but most things can be dealt with in his office.
  15. He reads the letters sent by my specialist and asks me how that treatment is going.
  16. He treats me like a person, not like one more item to mark off his to-do list.

Aside from his clinical practice, he’s involved in volunteer work that I would support.  He provides medical support to the local crisis pregnancy center.  He also does short-term missions trips.  That can be inconvenient for office staffing, since one of his nurse practitioners liked the work so much that she left to work overseas full time, but he’s dedicated to helping people and doing what’s right.  Every year he and his staff help out at the American Cancer Society fundraising walk.  These activities tell a little more about the kind of person he is.

My family physician has gone above and beyond the call of duty in providing exemplary medical care for me and my family, and I highly recommend him.

“WarmSocks” blogs at ∞ itis.

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  • AA

    I am jealous as heck:)

    How did you find this wonderful doctor?

    Thanks for getting into specifics as to what makes a great doctor. That is very helpful.

    • http://warmsocks.wordpress.com/ WarmSocks

      I sat down with the phone book, the list of doctors who accepted my insurance, and a list of questions. Then I prayed. Seems to have worked ;)

  • Katen Moore

    I understand that you want to know who the provider is before your appointment — but do you have something against the NP or with NPs in general? I found that comment a bit of a backhanded slight… If the Doc you love has chosen to work with a certain NP, wouldn’t it make sense that the NP is also excellent?

    What’s up with that?

    • http://warmsocks.wordpress.com/ WarmSocks

      The NP in this office is great, too. No slight intended. I appreciate that they always say who the appointment is with.

      In contrast, there was one place I went where I was referred to the doctor, and asked for an appointment with the doctor, but discovered five minutes into the appointment that the doctor wasn’t accepting new patients and I’d been arbitrarily assigned one of the PA’s. The particular letters after his name didn’t matter; what mattered was that it wasn’t considered important to communicate with me about what was going on.

      • Katen Moore

        thanks for clarifying! That makes me (an NP) feel better! I totally understand wanting to know who the visit is with! and totally agree that misleading patients is a big no-no!

  • JFP

    Wow! At first, I thought you were describing MY physician! But he has a solo practice with no NP [not quite sure why], and his volunteer work is coaching Little League.

    Mine is dual certified in pediatrics and IM, and I found him by asking several nurses for their opinions.

    He does everything, including stitches. He’s also very well networked with the top local specialists, which is good for my health [although not necessarily good for my mood - as on the day my heart rate was 240 and they all decided i needed to be in the hospital NOW rather than in a couple of hours!]

    Great docs DO exist.

  • dr_som

    Are you in rural America? Not many city or suburban docs I know practice such a wide range of skills. I loved my ob/gyn, a solo doc with one NP who just closed his practice after 30 years because he could not negotiate contracts with insurance companies and his malpractice premiums were high (he did high risk ob and routine gyn). Sometimes doctors offices feel small but the doctor is in fact employed by a large hospital. Wonder if that is the only way your family doc can afford to spend time suturing or casting? I would love to do both in and outpatient pediatrics but the landscape of medicine is changing. Hospital regulations, insurance companies, residency training programs and physician reimbursement make this increasingly difficult.

    • http://warmsocks.wordpress.com/ WarmSocks

      I left Seattle to raise my children where there’s space to run and play. We’re near a rural small town, but do not see the doctors there; I drive an hour to a Tacoma suburb because my doctor is so great that I believe it’s worth the drive. My family physician is still independent, and the difference I’ve seen between doctors who are independent and doctors who are hospital employees gives me a decided preference for those who remain independent. The more I read about the state of medicine, the more I wonder how long he’ll be able to stay independent and keep his doors open. Obviously we need some major changes in the reimbursement structure for doctors; I hope you’re able to find a way to make it pay so you can do what you love best.

  • LSW

    I was with you until you said that he “does biopsies…and sews fingers back on.” IMHO, sewing fingers back on is pretty complicated stuff for a family physician, and not all biopsies are uncomplicated, either.

    If you or a family member actually lose a finger (even on a non-dominant hand) I hope you’ll reconsider and ask for an immediate referral to a hand surgeon who will use an operating microscope to reconnect not only fingers but also ligaments, tendons, nerves and vessels to provide a well-functioning hand. I know of friends who’ve lost considerable hand function from a deep wound that was sutured in the emergency room. Many ERs have a hand surgeon on call, or can immediately refer you to a hospital that does. (Ask about this before you fill out the paperwork for registration so you won’t get hit with unexpected charges,)

    There’s also a lot to be said for having a biopsy (especially one on an area that visible) be done by a surgeon. If it were on my face, or that of a family member, I’d look for a plastic surgeon.

  • http://nostrums.blogspot.com Doc D

    I read this with considerable admiration. Most of us are not candidates for medical canonization. And, great job of being a discerning patient! it takes work to find and receive what you expect in medical care.

    I admit I went into medicine with several motives: I wanted something really hard to do, I liked science, I wanted to be respected, and I wanted secure employment. Oh, yeah, and I wanted to help people.

    Once I got there, I found the greatest satisfaction from solving difficult problems in the best way possible. This forced me into the psychosocial elements of empathy, communicating, monitoring, and broader patient expectations. I think it made me better as a doctor. Also, as the respect and appreciation our society has for doctors has faded, it left me less dependent on adulation.

    But still, for me, it’s finding the clue, doing the research, solving the riddle, and untying the knotty medical problem that’s exerts the greatest pull.