This year, I already know, will bring at least one new doctor for me. My rheumatologist sent me a letter right before Christmas, telling me that she’s closing shop after thirty years and was nice enough to send me a list of doctors to call and set up shop with. Now, I have to interview the new doctor. Most people I know just call and make an appointment with a doctor and start treatments. Not me.
I am of the firm belief that I am not the consumer. I am the boss and my physician is the consumer or, better yet, my partner. We are in a partnership to keep me healthy. S/He is the expert on the vehicle that I use daily to carry me through this life. I know it’s quirks and nuances, the mileage, how well the engine seems to be running and any dings and dents.
Just as one does not take their Maserati Qattroporte to a Nissan dealership to be fixed, one should be sure to have the proper physician for the job of caring for one’s body. I have many disorders and diseases like Fibromyalgia, which some doctors think is a nonexistent “disease” and will refuse to treat it properly, therefore, I will be wasting both our time by seeing that particular doctor. There are also some that will not listen to their patients, thinking themselves more knowledgeable than the patient, trying out the same, failed treatments which, in my case, will lead to more misery and possibly reversing the comfort I now have. I will not accept that and, again, a doctor that will not listen will not get my business.
Because of my beliefs, I have a certain routine that I follow when I’m interviewing a new clinic.
First,I do internet research. I see how big the operation is. I prefer small clinics with few practitioners. I’ve found most of the small ones are better suited for me because of my agoraphobia. I CANNOT be around a lot of people, especially waiting for the doctor.
Another reason for liking a smaller clinic is, I’ve found, they are more patient and don’t normally rush through their patients time. This is important because if a patient is, like me at times, slow or needing more time than the 15 minutes normally allotted for a patient, it’s not a big deal. I once had a doctor that would have his patients wait, for hours if needed, because he had an especially troublesome or difficult case. He was thorough but had a seriously crappy bedside manner.
Second, their office has to be within MY walking distance of a bus stop. That means less than a block on my good days. Much more than that and my RA starts acting up and HURTS. I don’t own a vehicle so this is a MUST.
Third, the secretary needs to be polite. I know, this is usually a given but, politeness doesn’t only mean being nice on the phone. It means calling me back when I call with a question or needing information on my treatment such as when my tests are or even my next appointment.
When I call a new doctors office the first time, I do an impromptu interview with the secretary. You can tell a LOT about a physician by the people they have in their office. I see if they answer professionally with the clinic/doctors name and their own name. An interview will, hopefully, go something like this:
Secretary: “hello, Dr. Johns office, Mary speaking, how can I help you today?”
me: “hi, this is Suzie, I’m looking for a new doctor. I have Medicare, is your office taking new patients?”
Secretary: “Why yes, we are, may I set up an appointment for you?”
me: “could I ask a few questions first?”
Secretary: “Of course, how can I help?”
me: “well, first, how do you like working for Dr. John?”
Secretary: “He’s professional. I like working here with him.”
This is very important because if the doctor is abrupt or mean to his office staff, he’s got an attitude problem. I can tell if they really like their boss or not by their hesitation and tone of voice.
me:”fantastic! How long have you worked for him?”
Secretary: “years and loved every minute”
me: “I know his specialty is can you tell me, is he familiar with and what paperwork he keeps for patients with this disease?”
This is an important question, to me, because the more documentation one has, the better and more in-depth the treatment.
Secretary:”well, he has a lot of that type of patient and we have extensive tracking paperwork including ”
me “fantastic! When is the earliest I can come in for an interview of the doctor?”
This question sometimes throws them but I assure them it’s no different from any other job interview and explain, if necessary, my reasoning. Never have I had any office ever refuse to make an appointment for an interview. Oftentimes they are amused at the thought of someone making the doctor apply for the job of treating a patient.
Once in the room with the doctor, they are usually ready to do an exam and are surprised to find themselves in an interview! My last one went something like this:
Doctor: “hello, I’m Dr John. What brings you into my office today?”
me: “well, I’m looking for a new doctor. I’m unhappy with my current doctor and you’ve come highly recommended. I’d like to ask you some questions before we get started, if you don’t mind”
Doctor, looking surprised and a bit curios “um… ok, sure, what do you need to know?”
me: “how long, where and how long ago did you go to school?”
me: “were you at the top of your class and, if not, what makes you capable of handling such a controversial diagnoses as mine?”
This question sounds a bit rude but, I’ve found, most take it in stride and seem to approve of my brisk candor. I’m not wasting time or pulling punches. I want to know what makes them any better than the quack down the road. I want to see confidence in my doctor!
When questioning ones potential physician, you cannot be afraid of hurting their feelings. This is your LIFE s/he’s helping to keep/make better. Now is NOT the time to be shy. This doctor will know you intimately. Even more so than your own spouse ever will. You cannot be shy nor can s/he be overly sensitive. They should be HAPPY that a potential patient is willing to go to such lengths to find out about them. It shows the patients willingness to work with them and, possibly, outlive their practice!
I’ve had my rheumatologist for 10 years of her thirty years of practice and have only had one visit that was upsetting, my last one. I know, from phone conversations with her office since that appointment, that she recently lost her husband of twenty years. I know this is, in part, why she’s quitting and why she was so different the last time I saw her. I forgive her because, well, she’s only human. Just like me. On Friday I will see her for the last time.
I think I’ll take her a teddy bear.