(on picking a primary care doctor, from the mouth of a primary care doctor..)
I was tagged on a tweet yesterday that could pertain to so many of you.
So I took it into here:
Instead of laying the answer out there, on Twitter (where, by the way, you can follow me), I took my voice back into this blog because there’s simply more space to lay out a lengthy – and precise – response (and in any number of characters I desire!). It’s part of the magic of building your own space. You can curate it in exactly the way that you wish. If you’re a physician and want to do the same, reach out, or join SoMeDocs.
Here we go.
Although healthcare is quite complicated these days, choosing the right primary care doctor shouldn’t be.
A great primary care visit ideally tackles your health as a healthcare TEAM; and one in which you’re at the helm. You’re literally playing the leading role (and congrats!).
I sometimes think of it like a car-ride, where you’re in the driver’s seat. Your doctor merely gives you directions on how to get to your destination, but you’re the one who’s carrying those directions out. When you know where you need to go, and exactly how to get there, you’re more likely to safely arrive.
For me, there are a few main factors in establishing an effective primary care relationship that I place most value on. Please note, that there are many other important factors I may have omitted here. These are simply the top three I thought of right away, when asked. Weigh in below with others!
(you can also skip to the 4 Important Questions to Ask When Choosing a Primary Care Doctor’s Office)
3 Most Important Factors (IMO) to Consider When Picking a Primary Care Doctor:
1 Good Communication skills
For me, this one’s number 1. A good doctor will both hear what you have to say AND be able to explain specifics back to you, in return. It’s a loop that’s essential in the primary care relationship, and any break in this precious circle can threaten that; not to mention derail the whole ‘getting-better’ thing.
When a patient leaves a physician’s office (ANY physician, for that matter), they should be able to clearly answer the following:
What was my diagnosis?
While this seems like an obvious, I’m always surprised to meet patients who leave a doctor’s office having no idea what they have. That doesn’t mean the doctor has to always know the answer. Some issues are complicated, and not straight-forward. But in that case there would still be information communicated, to empower the patient, such as a differential diagnosis, which is an evolving list of what the possibilities are.
What is the treatment plan?
Treatment gets you from point A (not a place you want to be: not feeling well, or not being healthy overall) to point B (a desired place: feeling better, or being healthier) in your “car ride”. You’ve simply got to know the directions/how to get there! The treatment plan is like the Waze of your health. So what are the steps to feeling better? Are you being prescribed a medication? What are the specifics to taking it (ie route of delivery, how long, major side effects)!
What is the follow-up plan?
When should you come back to get re-evaluated? What should you be looking for, in terms of symptoms, that should raise concern and bring you back sooner?
A well-laid out treatment plan is like #Waze for your health. You plug in the desired destination - corner of happiness & feeling great - & then follow the directions to get there. Click To Tweet
2 Makes You Comfortable
Your doctor should possess the ability to make you comfortable (it usually helps facilitates the first point in the list, communication). Whether that takes compassion on her part, or a specific kind of personality trait that clicks with yours, you need to feel comfortable enough the see her and never, ever feel bad. This is particularly important in the primary care setting, because you’ll typically be seeing THIS doctor most (the ‘generalist’). This doesn’t just refer to comfort in sharing intimate details about your body and health with the doctor, but also to the interaction itself. If you don’t understand the plan, for example, you should be comfortable enough to state it at the visit. You don’t want to leave feeling confused.
3 Commits Sufficient TIME
Time is becoming increasingly more important these days, as the face of healthcare changes. Visits are being squeezed (mainly because of decreasing reimbursements), and physicians are not always available for the length of time patients want them to be. You want medical issues to be properly addressed, so make sure that you doctor either has time to address them at the visit, OR that the plan includes additional ones (especially if your issue is complex). Be understanding of the fact that not every medical issue is straight-forward, and that seeing patients for repeat visits is usually a good thing, because your doctor gets to know you. It’s a concept we refer to, in our field, as CONTINUITY. It’s a magical ingredient that nurtures these important relationships and helps them to blossom.
I realize that these are big shoes to have to fill, when combined, especially with the way healthcare is operating today. But there are some absolutely fabulous docs out there who qualify.
CONTINUITY is a magical ingredient that nurtures these important patient-physician relationships (esp in the primary care setting) and helps them to blossom. Click To Tweet
(If you’d like to read the 4 Important Questions to Ask When Choosing a Primary Care Doctor’s Office, you’ll soon be able to (as I’m writing that up now)! I’m also working on Why Finding the Right Primary Care Doctor Fit is Like Dating. Don’t forget to drop an email – subscribe! – and leave a comment!)
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