How (and when) to switch doctors
It goes without saying that the doctor/patient relationship is key to good health.
It's important we believe that our physicians are competent and compassionate. When patients trust their doctors, it benefits their well-being.
But what happens when you lose faith in your doctor?
If you consistently feel that you're rushed through your appointments or that your concerns are routinely dismissed, you're right to think about making a change. At the least, it's time to have an honest discussion about it.
And if your medical needs have changed -- which can happen as we age -- or your doctor's practice is headed in a different direction, you may truly need a better fit.
For example, if you have age-related health conditions, perhaps it's time for a specialist like a geriatrician.
Change can be stressful, but that's no reason to settle when it comes to your health.
How to find a quality doctor
When you're searching for a new doctor, never pick one blindly out of a phone book or provider directory.
Third-party recommendations are the way to go, provided you do it right. For example:
• Ask people who you know and trust for referrals. Pay attention to those two or three names that keep cropping up -- they're the doctors worth further investigation.
• Take physician search websites like HealthGrades.com and ZocDoc.com with a grain of salt. Some physicians have marketing people who monitor these closely and work to ensure only rave reviews come up on top. Be aware: a doctor's friends or relatives may pepper these sites with bogus recommendations.
• Medical professionals are an excellent source for quality recommendations. In particular, everyone has a friend or neighbor or friend-of-a-friend who's a nurse. Hospital nurses typically have the real skinny when it comes to local physicians.
• Switching doctors while you're hospitalized can be tricky. If you are truly dissatisfied with an assigned doctor, let the nurse manager or hospital advocate know why, but be tactful. Other doctors might be reluctant to take on your care if you're seen as a difficult patient.
Do you tell your old physician?
Once you choose a new doctor, he or she will need to request your medical records from your old doctor, who will then know you left.
While you aren't required to tell your old doctor why you're unhappy with them, physicians can certainly benefit from your feedback. A polite but honest letter might help your doctor improve his/her customer service practices.
Get off on the right foot with your new doctor
Having a great doctor/patient relationship is a two-way street.
Prepare in advance for your appointments: write down your questions, take careful notes. Be open and honest with your doctor -- they're not mind-readers -- but stick to the topic at hand: your health.
Make a point of showing respect and gratitude in the doctor's office. Medical professionals are people, too--ones who often hear more complaints than thanks.
Remember, they deal with people who are in pain, afraid and facing serious medical challenges on a daily basis. Presenting yourself as a polite, pleasant, compliant patient will hold you in good stead.
And once you find a great doctor, nurture and protect that valuable relationship. Pay it forward and refer other patients to him or her -- it's the highest compliment you can give.
• Teri Dreher is an award-winning RN patient advocate and a pioneer in the growing field of private patient advocacy. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, today she is owner/founder of NShore Patient Advocates, the largest advocacy company in the Chicago area. She was awarded her industry's highest honor, The APHA H. Kenneth Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award. Her book, "Patient Advocacy Matters," is now in its second printing.