Finding a new doctor is like dating

I agree wholeheartedly with a post by Annahieta Kalantari expressing the idea that finding a new physician job is like dating. A patient looking for a new MD can be just as uncertain, unnerving, intimidating and stressful.

First, you hear the dreaded words from a receptionist, often sorrowfully saying, “I’m sorry, we’re not in your network this year.” Then, the nerves begin. Maybe a friend recommends a doctor who is in your network, but his or her next appointment is a month from now, and your particular medical situation can’t wait that long. Maybe you see another doctor who had an appointment sooner, and you like him or her, but you do have to start a new relationship.

If you have been seeing a doctor for a long time, little bits of your life creep into conversations over the years: you’re writing a book, your mom died, your husband had surgery, etc. So when the doctor sees you again, those issues are often threaded throughout the conversation, but you can’t expect that when it’s a new doctor to you. The same is true from the other end of the stethoscope: I know when my doctor of long standing becomes a grandparent or when he’s had a death in the family.

Like doctors interviewing for new positions, patients are nervous too. Will we get along with the new doctor? Will our communication be effortless, smooth and reciprocal? The uncertainty of possibly unreceived messages plagues both doctors looking for a job and patients looking for medical care. If you contact the doctor’s office again, are you being too pushy? If you don’t contact them, and you never hear back, then you only have yourself to blame.

Like Dr. Kalantari, I also did not pursue online dating — I met my husband at a party — but finding a doctor online can be just as intimi-“dating.” I can find educational credentials and years of practice, but I can’t find out if we’ll get along. In online reviews, many patients mention that a doctor has a good bedside manner, and that’s a start, but I have learned that a good review doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll like the doctor and that a less than stellar review doesn’t mean that I won’t. (I imagine if there are ever reviews of patients, doctors might feel the same.)

As Dr. Kalantari mentioned, it’s hard to leave a position, (or in my case, a physician) whom you like. When you’re blanketed by security, it’s hard to make that leap, but sometimes it’s necessary. When I was headed to college, I was nervous about leaving home, since Emory, my alma mater, was seven states away, but I knew that’s where I belonged. The leap of faith was worth it for me. If you’re lucky, it can be the same, whether you’re dealing with a new position or a new physician.

In dating and in medicine, you don’t want to appear too forward, nor too backward. If I find an article on the web pertinent to my condition, should I share that with the doctor? Will he or she appreciate it, or feel that I’m stepping on his or her toes? Do I have to walk on eggshells around them? Will they treat me as an equal, or as a subordinate? In marriage and medicine, I want to be respected, while respecting my “significant other.” matches people in social environments; the Match program in medicine matches candidates with residency programs, but sometimes, for both situations, it’s a matter of doing your homework, timing and luck. There’s no match for that.

R. Lynn Barnett is the author of What Patients Want: Anecdotes and Advice and My Mother has Alzheimer’s and My Dog Has Tapeworms:  A Caregiver’s Tale. She can be reached on Twtter @rlynnbarnett1.

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