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Is it Time for a New Doctor?

male doctor seated at desk speaking with female patientThis is the 3rd and final post answering the question: when is it time to change doctors? Having a positive relationship with each of your doctors, participating in the decision-making process, and trusting your doctor can all help you get the best healthcare possible. There are some issues that should lead you to look for a new doctor, while other issues may not bother you enough to make what can be a difficult transition. Is it time for a new doctor?

For more information on how to decide if it’s time for a new doctor, read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Staff are rude.

In my previous post on reasons to think about changing doctors, I discussed how important it is to have a respectful relationship with your doctor. But it’s not just how the doctor treats you that matters. How do the front desk staff treat you on the phone or in person? How does the medical assistant who takes your vitals treat you? If interacting with the support staff makes you upset or uncomfortable, you can mention your concerns to your doctor. If you decide to complain, be specific. But don’t be surprised if no changes are made. If the rudeness persists, and makes you uncomfortable, it might be time to find another provider.

My personal experience with rude staff:

Many years ago, my husband and I had an internist who had several rude staff who regularly interacted with patients. We jokingly referred to the head nurse as Nurse Ratched (from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest for those of you under 40!). She was as mean as it gets. We were scared to speak to her on the phone, and anxious when speaking with her in person. We eventually left the doctor for other reasons, but we were relieved when we no longer had to be scared of the front office staff!

You can’t get an appointment.

image of calendar with doctor appointment circledNo matter how fabulous your doctor is, or how great your relationship is, if you can’t get in to see him/her when you need to, what’s the point? Is your doctor so busy that you can’t get an appointment in a timely manner when you are sick? If so, it might be time to find a new doctor.

Your doctor is hard to reach and/or slow to respond.

It’s very frustrating when you are trying to reach your doctor, but you never hear back. This is true whether you are emailing your doctor through a portal or calling the office and leaving messages. If your doctor never gets back to you within a reasonable time frame, it might be time to look for a new doctor who is more responsive.

Long waits in the waiting room.

people sitting in a waiting room: Zaggo - when is it time to change doctors?It’s a rare person who enjoys sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, reading old magazines while sitting on uncomfortable chairs. Although it can be a break from a hectic day and a chance to read a book or a magazine, most people don’t see it that way.

Like many of you, I wouldn’t put sitting in a waiting room on my list of fun things to do. But, I understand that sometimes unexpected things come up that cause doctors to fall behind on their schedules. I also know that on many occasions I have needed a doctor’s attention for more than my 15-minute allotment, and I realize that my longer appointments cause delays for other patients. My frustration with waiting softened after many long waits for appointments during my son Zach’s treatments for his brain tumor. Now I am more relaxed. As long as I get the time I need from my doctor, I’m not going to begrudge my doctor spending time with other patients.  What makes me annoyed after a long wait? When the doctor rushes through my appointment. That’s just bad practice management.

To reduce your chance of waiting, book the first appointment in the morning or the first appointment after lunch. If your lifestyle and/or personality makes waiting impossible for you, and your doctor frequently leaves you sitting in the waiting room for a considerable time, it might be time to find another doctor.

Drug and device companies unduly influence your doctor.

colorful pills on US dollars: Zaggo - when is it time to change doctors?As patients we trust that our doctors recommend treatments, including medications, that will benefit us. But what if your doctor prescribes medications and treatments that benefit his/her wallet but aren’t the best option for you? Drug and device companies spend heavily on marketing, including billions paid to doctors and hospitals for things such as research, meals, travel, gifts, or speaking fees. Some doctors receive tens of millions each year! It is possible that money received from a drug or device company may unduly influence your doctor’s prescribing habits, surgical recommendations and other suggestions. For instance, a recent study found that doctors who received free meals and other types of payments from drug companies tended to prescribe more opioid painkillers. Each additional meal was associated with a 0.7% increase in prescriptions. Of course, it’s also possible that your doctor receives small sums that do not influence his/her thinking.

You can look up how much money your doctor and/or hospital receives on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Open Payments website, and on ProPublica’s website. If you see payments that concern you, speak to your doctor for a better understanding. Personally, I would be concerned if my doctor receives millions of dollars a year; I’d wonder if this money impacted my doctor’s recommendations. If your findings make you uncomfortable, or make you question your doctor’s care, find another doctor.

Your doctor insists you have a procedure at a surgery center.

Surgery centers can be less expensive and more convenient than hospitals. Doctors perform a wide range of procedures in these centers, including knee operations, colonoscopies and spinal surgeries. This list of procedures performed at these centers is regularly increasing. Some surgery centers put patients’ lives at risk by skimping on training or lifesaving equipment. Other centers send home patients before they were fully recovered. These centers aren’t always prepared for emergencies and sometimes staff struggle in a crisis, according to a review of Medicare records and more than 70 lawsuits.

Most people don’t realize that surgery centers are often owned by doctors who perform procedures at their own centers. If your doctor recommends that you have a procedure outside of a hospital, don’t blindly follow his/her recommendation. Think long and hard before agreeing to a procedure at a surgery center. Federal law allows surgery center doctors to steer patients to facilities they own, rather than to a full-service hospital. In some cases, doing so could increase the risk to a patient, but double a physician’s profits.

If your doctor insists that you have your procedure at a surgery center, find another doctor. It’s not worth the risk. For more information on the potential dangers of surgery centers, read my blog post.

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