Like everything else in life what makes someone good is subjective. Everyone has an opinion regarding how to choose the right doctor and everyone usually loves the doctor they have or they are currently looking for a new one.
The way most of us go about it is by word of mouth. What is interesting is that healthcare professionals go about it completely different. If we use word of mouth it is only between other health care professionals and not what lay individuals think. That is because there are a few things we know that the general public does not.
First of all we know that you don’t have to like or agree with your doctor to consider him/her good. It is not always about telling you what you want to hear but about telling you what you need to know in order to make an informed decision. I especially notice this in the area of Oncology (cancer treatment) that doctors are not always up front about the prognosis of a patient. Many times doctors that participate in clinical trials or research are more concerned about the data they are collecting and in doing so prolong life even if it is painful or agonizing for the patient or family.
Some doctors specifically went into medicine because they want to heal. The healing aspect clouds their judgment when it comes time to say this person can’t be healed. We all have blind spots as it relates to our profession.
Doctors have an obligation to tell people the truth, if asked. Some people don’t ask and it can make it easy for a doctor uncomfortable with terminal conditions to be completely frank. The danger here is if you are uncomfortable hearing this type of information you definitely need someone comfortable with presenting it. Two wrongs don’t make a right, choose a doctor that will tell you what you need to know and not one that tells you what you want to hear.
Credentials are important even though everyone has had to learn at some point in time. Often the young person in the medical practice is as competent as the most senior simply because they have trained under the senior physician AND they have the benefit of having come fresh out of school where they learned and practiced the most advanced techniques. This is when the first meeting with the individual is significant. Here is where you can determine if this person fits with what you need. Ask him/her about their style and what they would do with a non compliant patient. If they respond by saying there is really nothing you can do consider if that is the approach you want your doctor to take with you. I have known people that were told over and over again about reducing their weight but after years of hearing this they suddenly realized this is what they needed to do to remain or improve their health. If the doctor had given up where might they be today?
Being a nurse I know and hold true to the adage of “trust a nurse”. As nurses we never ask each other who are the best doctors. We cannot steer anyone towards one doctor or another. We also know that if we say “if this were you who would you choose for your doctor, surgeon or oncologist?” This way we get an honest answer without them feeling like they have swayed us toward a decision. Everyone knows a nurse and certainly it is best if you know one in the area you need help in. You would be surprised if approaching the question this way does not get you a better response. If in the ER ask the nurse there or in the ICU the same. Nurses always want to help and we know there are some doctors that are a better choice for what a particular patient needs.
In my experience I have seen doctors with horrible bedside manners. Yes, because of this they are more likely to be sued but there are many of these doctors I would go to in a heartbeat. Bedside manner means nothing other than the doctor is or isn’t nice. Not to make excuses for nasty behavior but I have found many a surgeon that demanded perfection and quite frankly I would prefer that over nice. Perfection in the operating room is a nice thing to have.
Do not get me wrong there are great doctors that are nice too. This is the best of both worlds and I myself like nice doctors. Nice doctors are better listeners and we all want our doctor to listen to us. If you have a problem that is embarrassing then by all means you want someone who listens or you just might not feel comfortable talking about it and therefore you will let it go until it is a major problem. If you have someone who doesn’t listen and you are not assertive enough to interject when you need to, you will never be heard.
So as you can see it is not just about the personality of the physician but you yourself that you need to be aware of. Physician and patient must complement each other. The only way to assure this is with a personal meeting. If the doctor does not take time to tell you about himself and make you feel comfortable talking with him and you don’t feel comfortable telling him this, the fit is wrong. Trust your gut and move on.
Liking your doctor is important but liking them for the right reasons is imperative. This is a person you are trusting with your life. This is the person who may be making decisions on your behave in case of an emergency and with whom you expect will know and respect your wishes. Your choice of doctor is as important as your choice in a spouse.