Just as in marriage, the ability to communicate is essential to any successful doctor-patient relationship. In fact, the most successful doctor-patient relationships are a lot like a marriage. Both parties must be willing to listen, to negotiate and to support each other’s decisions. Outcomes improve significantly when patients are engaged in their own healt hcare. Engagement only occurs when doctors and patients are able to effectively work together to solve health problems. The days of the paternalistic physician dictating lifestyle changes and treatment plans are long over. Today, patients are better informed and armed with information as they enter the office for consultation.
Unfortunately, just as in marriage, not all doctor-patient relationships work out. Sometimes changes have to be made in the spirit of moving forward with effective health care. In the Wall Street Journal, author Kristen Gerencher addressed the issue of when to fire your doctor. In this piece Gerencher provides sound advice on how to determine when it is time for a change. She mentions 5 warning signs that may indicate that a divorce and remarriage to another provider is important. In particular, if you feel worse when you leave your physician’s office than when you arrived, it may be time to consider a change.
Here’s my take on the warning signs that the WSJ mentions:
1. You leave with more questions than answers. It is critical that physicians take the time to communicate clearly to patients. Essential to this communication is allowing time for questions and clarifying any misunderstandings or addressing concerns about a treatment plan. This can be challenging for doctors in the current health care environment where federally mandated documentation requirements and pressures to see more patients in less time are limiting the time once dedicated to patient discussion. However, it is essential to the health of the doctor patient relationship that physicians do not allow these conversations to be pushed aside. Remember, patient engagement is key. An informed patient is much more likely to be engaged.
2. Your doctor dismisses your input. In the age of the Internet, patients often come armed with lots of information (lots of which is unreliable and shady at best) that is obtained from online searches. Rather than simply dismiss the information as junk, it is important to guide our patients to more reliable and more accurate sources of Internet information.
3. Your doctor has misdiagnosed you. Medicine is not a perfect science. It is important that you work with your doctor every step of the way along your path to diagnosis. Mistakes in diagnosis happen — however, these mistakes are not always negligence. Consider if your physician has carefully considered your problem and has provided a well thought out differential diagnosis before leaving due to a misdiagnosis. It is important that communication continues during the process of misdiagnosis. If there is no good communication at this stage, it may be time to choose another provider.
4. Your doctor balks at a second opinion. A good physician is never afraid of a second opinion. In fact, I often welcome a second opinion in cases where there are multiple choices of a plan of action. It is essential that patients feel comfortable with their treatment plan — a feeling of comfort breeds engagement and engagement is key for success. As physicians, we must be willing to put our egos aside in order to provide the best possible care for our patients.
5. Your doctor isn’t board certified. When choosing a physician, it is vital that you examine his or her background and training. Typically, doctors must complete a course of training in residency and fellowship in order to be boarded in a particular specialty. Board exams (some written and some oral) must be passed and competency must be proven. Once certified, physicians must maintain competency through continuing medical education and re-certification every 10 years. If your doctor is not board certified, it is not necessarily the end — ask why. There are several reasons that they may not be including overseas training that is not recognized in the US by the US societies responsible for board certification.
Choosing a doctor is a lot like choosing a spouse. Decisions should be made in cooperation with one another and both sides must contribute to planning and execution of the chosen course of action. Patients must weigh options, consider pros and cons and discuss issues with their provider and the provider’s staff when unhappy with a particular physician or physician group. If communication is not productive and there is no engagement, patients must make a change. Good health care is a two way street. Doctor and patient must work in concert in order to achieve optimal outcomes.
Kevin R. Campbell is a cardiac electrophysiologist who blogs at his self-titled site, Dr. Kevin R. Campbell, MD.