Have a sinking feeling about your doctor?
Staying with a doctor you’re not happy with is as harmful as staying in a relationship you know is bad because it’s easier than making a change. But parting ways may be the healthiest move. “If you’re not happy with your doctor, you’re not going to have a good relationship. That trust won’t be there, so you might hesitate to see them, and you won’t tell them everything about your health when you do go, which could put your health at risk,” says Michael Urban, senior lecturer and program director for doctorate of occupational therapy at the University of New Haven.
Changing doctors can be a challenging process. Before you invest time figuring out how to switch doctors, it’s important to analyze whether such a change is necessary.
Here are 11 signs it’s time to fire your doctor:
1. You and your doctor don’t mesh.
You and your doctor don’t need to see eye to eye on everything, but it’s helpful if you work well together. If you want a partnership, for example, a doctor who spouts commands is not the best fit; if you value a warm bedside manner, consider ditching a formal, distant physician.
“Some patients like doctors who are very direct and blunt,” says Washington, D.C.-based family physician Kenny Lin. “And some patients can’t stand that type of doctor because they think he or she isn’t empathetic enough or doesn’t provide enough options.” When there’s a mismatch, neither person is at fault — but it could be grounds for termination.
2. Your physician doesn’t respect your time.
Do you routinely wait an hour to see your physician, only to feel like he or she is speed-doctoring through the visit? You should never feel like you’re being rushed. If your doctor doesn’t take the time to answer your questions or address your concerns, there’s a problem. “If your doctor’s not giving you the time you need, they’re not listening to you fully because they’re rushing,” Urban says. “They’re not giving you the full care that you need.”
The medical community is becoming increasingly sensitive to patients’ precious time. If your doctor’s chronic lateness makes you grind your teeth, why stay with him or her?
3. Your doctor keeps you in the dark.
A doctor should be open and thorough about why he or she recommends a certain treatment or orders a specific test, plus share all results with you. If a doctor doesn’t explain a decision, “or at least not to your satisfaction, at that point a doctor is bad,” Lin says.
It’s also important he or she uses terms you understand, rather than complicated medical jargon; otherwise, explanations are meaningless. Your health is too important to feel confused or uninformed.
4. Your physician doesn’t listen.
Listening is one of the most important skills a physician can have, says Dr. Neel Anand, professor of orthopedic surgery and director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center Center in Los Angeles.
A good doctor listens to their patients’ description of pain and other symptoms. “As physicians, we’re a busy bunch,” he says. “But our most important time is spent in a day is with our patients. If we don’t allow them to give us a complete picture of their overall health, we can’t help them effectively maximize it. It’s best to go with the doctor who puts down the chart and actively listens to what’s going on with you. You’ll both be better for it.”
5. The doctor’s office staff is unprofessional.
The receptionists are the link between you and the doctor. If they blow you off — or neglect to give your message to the physician, say, about side effects of a new medication — your health could be at risk. Even if you like your doctor, a bad office staff could signal it’s time to look elsewhere.
6. You don’t feel comfortable with your doctor.
Doctors need to know intimate details you may not even share with friends or family members. If you’re unable to disclose such facts, you and your doctor may not be the right match.
A sense of unease about his or her decisions and recommendations, even if you can’t say exactly why, is also a perfectly legitimate reason for cutting the cord, says Don Powell, president and CEO of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, a nonprofit that promotes healthy behavior through wellness programs and publications.
Beware of sloppy medical mistakes, too: If your doctor prescribes a medication to which you’re allergic, and you know that information is in your history, a separation may be in order.
7. Your physician doesn’t coordinate with other doctors.
Your primary care physician should be the quarterback of your health care team, managing each step of the medical process. That means keeping track of specialists’ reports and instructions and talking with you about their recommendations. If he or she is slacking, an important piece of your care could slip through the cracks.
8. Your doctor isn’t available.
A good doctor is available for follow-up questions and concerns. Patient advocate Trisha Torrey, founder of the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates and author of “You Bet Your Life! The 10 Mistakes Every Patient Makes,” recalls the time her husband developed severe tooth pain on a weekend. His dentist’s voicemail included a cell phone number and a promise of a quick response, but he never heard back. An emergency clinic visit and root canal later, he told his dentist she was fired.
A growing number of doctors are making themselves available to patients via email, text message and virtual platforms like Skype, and at the very least, you need to know that in an emergency, you won’t be left hanging.
9. Your doctor doesn’t take a holistic approach.
While most physicians can capably prescribe medication and order tests, it’s important to consider if your physician factors in how a new drug or protocol will fit into your lifestyle, says Dr. Joseph Giaimo, a pulmonologist and president of the American Osteopathic Association. He practices in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
If your doctor isn’t addressing your medical issue from a “mind, body, spirit” perspective, you might consider a switch. The best health outcomes will happen when you are able to talk to your physician about lifestyle issues like eating habits, how much exercise you should get and whether you’re interacting with other people enough to avoid social isolation.
10. Your doctor is a reluctant learner.
Whether your doctor went to medical school three or 30 years ago, make sure you have access to his or her curriculum vitae. The CV, or resume, can provide you a great picture of how in touch your doctor is with medical advances, Anand says.
For example, techniques to treat back pain have advanced in the last 30 years. “You want to make sure (your doctor) is keeping pace,” Anand says. The CV will tell you what conferences the physician has attended, what current continuing education they are receiving and whether they’re training other medical professionals in their field. A doctor could provide such education by speaking at conferences, conducting research studies or authoring journal articles or textbook chapters on whatever his or her specialty is, whether it’s cardiovascular health or spinal conditions.
11. Your physician is rude or condescending.
If your physician has you wondering why are doctors so rude, it’s time to part ways. Same goes if he or she trivializes your concerns as though they’re not valid. One of the clearest signs you should move on is if he or she walks out of the room while you’re still talking.
Review what other patients have said about doctors.
There are online tools you can use to see how other patients have rated particular doctors. For example, ProPublica’s Vital Signs API database provides information on 1.3 million doctors and other health care professionals throughout the U.S.
The database includes information on:
— The provider’s information, such as specialty, location and contact information.
— Standing with federal health programs.
— Office visits and costs.
— Relationships with drug and medical device companies.
— Prescribing patterns and habits.
— Surgical performance.
Healthgrades, another online tool, has more than 10 million ratings from patients.
You can use this online tool to read patient reviews about doctors in a wide range of specialties, including:
— Addiction medicine.
— Advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology.
— Vascular surgery.
Urban suggests not making judgments based on patient reviews alone. “When people are happy, they don’t always leave comments. I’ve seen some doctors who are great who’ve had many negative comments.”
Ask for recommendations from friends and other people in your area, which you can do in online forums. Ask a doctor you’re considering if you can come in for a quick meeting with the physician or just come to the office to get a sense of the environment. If a doctor is willing to take a few minutes to meet with you, that shows he or she is vested in listening to you down the road. If the office is clean and the staff is calm and professional, those are good signs.
To recap, here are 11 signs you should fire your doctor:
— You and your doctor don’t mesh.
— Your physician doesn’t respect your time.
— Your doctor keeps you in the dark.
— Your physician doesn’t listen.
— The doctor’s office staff is unprofessional.
— You don’t feel comfortable with your doctor.
— Your physician doesn’t coordinate with other doctors.
— Your doctor isn’t available.
— Your doctor doesn’t take a holisitic approach.
— Your doctor is a reluctant learner.
— Your physician is rude and condescending.
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Update 10/14/21: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.