Many people have often asked me, how to pick a good doctor. Good Lord, I wish I knew how to answer that one. How can I tell lay people what constitutes a good doctor when we who have been in practice so many years and have had medical training of the highest order cannot agree among ourselves as to what constitutes a “good” or “poor” doctor? As for myself, I feel a good doctor, fundamentally, is one who is honest with you but will always keep your health interests uppermost in mind.
Otherwise, what is a “good” doctor? I don’t know of any yardstick by which you can measure the qualities of a doctor.
I believe the best thing you can do is to pick a doctor with whom you feel happy. You must like him, trust him, respect him, and have confidence in him. If he occasionally appears to be below par during an office or home visit, give him some of the benefit of doubt you might like to have yourself under similar circumstances.
However, do not make the mistake of “shopping” around for a doctor just because you want one who will offer you the kind of advice you like to hear. Suppose, for instance, that Doctor Smith tells you that you must cut down on smoking and drinking and must lose ten pounds. Don’t go looking for a Doctor Jones who won’t order you to do what Dr. Smith ordered. Chances are Dr. Jones has less interest in your health than Dr. Smith and will do anything to keep you happy so long as you are his patient. Many people looking for the answers they like to hear end up in the hands of quacks.
Whenever you get advice from your doctor, accept it even if it is unpleasant. But if it does happen to be the sort of counsel that does not please you or causes you to have some doubt, don’t fight your doctor. Don’t tell him that you disagree with him. It won’t help you. If he’s honest, he may get angry. If he’s not the least bit interested in your health, he may smilingly allow you to have your way.
Therefore, if you have some doubts about anything at all with regard to your doctor’s diagnosis or prescription, tell him that you would like to have another opinion, that you would like to see a specialist. Most doctors are only too happy to hear such a request. They are delighted to have their own opinions confirmed or modified by your willingness to see a specialist. A confirmation will give you added assurance and may be good for you. On the other hand, even if the specialist disagrees with your doctor, don’t think your doctor was giving you a run-around. Remember, only you can benefit from a disagreement. You certainly would not expect that a doctor willing to give you a run-around to also be willing to send you to a specialist, thereby risking disagreement. No. Be a little less cynical. Be happy with your doctor or find another one.
The problem of fees.
One of the most delicate problems patients face is that of the doctor’s fee. Generally, the fee for an office or home visit is fairly well fixed throughout the country so that you know what you will have to pay for a routine call.
However, there often comes a time when the doctor will have to do something special for you. Suppose, for instance, you asked him to give you a periodic health examination. It would be unreasonable for you to expect him to do considerably more work for a routine fee. What will he do and how much will he charge?
Ask him. I don’t know a single doctor who is not pleased, indeed anxious, to have you discuss fee questions with him. He is just as anxious to clear the financial air as you are. Nearly all doctors have set schedules of fees for the various services they will perform. They do not, as is so commonly believed, charge whatever the traffic will bear. A surgeon, for example, might have a higher fee for a private patient than for a semi-private or ward patient. But his fee for each category of patient will be the same.
If an unusual difficulty arises over a fee, it can be settled a lot quicker than you think. Anytime you feel that a fee is excessive, take your complaint to your county medical society. Every county medical group has an established system for hearing complaints of all sorts from patients. The group will go out of its way to settle such difficulties. Many times the society will advise the doctor to accept a lower fee, and, usually, he does. But just as often the patient will receive an interesting and informative education on the trials and tribulations of medical practice; he will discover that the fee in question is a reasonable and valid one and should be paid gladly.
Be an image breaker.
A Cleveland psychiatrist, Dr. Douglas D. Bond, noting that patients tend to size-up doctors, said, “The patient’s feelings toward the physician are beginning even before he puts in an appearance at the physician’s office. Usually he has been referred by an ex-patient, or by a friend of an ex-patient, or by another physician, and comes with a preconceived idea as to the physician’s ability.
“He has already begun to picture in his mind what the physician will look and act like. In the first few minutes… the patient will be sizing-up the physician and adjusting his mental preconception to the picture as he now sees it.”
This business of mentally generating pictures of how we expect doctors to appear and act before us is a psychological bloc you would do well to discard. What difference does it make whether a physician looks more or less as distinguished or bright as you had imagined him to be? Don’t burden your mind with images and you won’t be disappointed. You won’t have to adjust your “mental preconception to the picture.”
But there is still another image all of us must break. That is the conception of the doctor as a “miracle man” who can cure everything, or, if he cannot, he’s no good as a doctor. Doctors are not magicians. They cannot pull cures out of a hat. You all know it takes many years of hard work and training to earn a medical degree. Even then the hard work is just getting started. A doctor can only cure those things he has learned to cure through the acquisition of knowledge from medical school studies, from attending special clinics, or from reading technical and scientific literature. If a doctor is puzzled over an ailment and feels as if he knows little or nothing about it, you can be sure he knows where and how to find out. He can consult other doctors, perhaps specialists. He can refer to his textbooks. He can contact the local health department or one of the many fine research organizations of the U.S. Public Health Service or of the National Institutes of Health. Finally, and not the least, he can seek the assistance of the vast resources of the American Medical Association or of one of the very many organizations of medical specialists.
Any doctor who claims he has a cure which no other doctor has, or which no other doctor is willing to recognize or accept, may be playing footsie with your health and pocketbook. Some of the world’s greatest and most insidious quacks have appeared in the image of distinguished-looking, courageous men. Anytime a doctor tries to paint in your mind an image of himself as a “miracle man,” run for your life.
What to Remember About Your Doctor
1. Make the most of every visit with your doctor. Tell him all that is on your mind and be honest about it.
2. Tell your doctor that you would like to have more time to talk with him whenever you feel he has been too hasty.
3. If you are unhappy with your doctor, find a new one.
4. Don’t try to pick a doctor on the basis of any preconceived notions of what he ought to look and act like.
5. Your only yardstick for choosing a doctor should be whether you are happy with him.
6. Avoid shopping around for a doctor who tells you the things you like to hear, simply because previous medical advice was unpleasant to you.
7. Never be afraid, ashamed, or reluctant to discuss fees or ask a doctor to have his diagnosis confirmed by a specialist.
8. When a specialist disagrees with your doctor’s views, it is to your benefit. You should not accept it as a reflection on your doctor’s abilities.
9. Don’t expect your doctor to pull miracle cures out of his bag. He knows where and how to get the best help for you.