About The Author: Bethany is a young adult living with a rare mast cell disorder that has no cure. Her passions include writing, art, advocacy work, her pets, reading, and running an educational Instagram account about disability and activism. She loves sharing her story and helping answer questions about chronic illness and her life.
Finding A Doctor That Works For You
One of the first lessons you learn when you’re chronically ill is that unfortunately, not all doctors deliver the same level of care. Like any other profession, there are those who exceed expectations and those who fall flat. No matter what way you spin it, most people have encountered a “bad” doctor throughout their treatment journey. It can be tough to identify these medical professionals, especially if you are just starting out on your chronic illness journey. This can lead to a long road of incorrect diagnoses, unproductive appointments, and costly medical bills.
Once you’ve found the right doctor, your whole medical story can drastically change. A good doctor will be able to quickly and effectively identify your problem, have good bedside manner and open communication, create a treatment plan that works for you, and will work to reach an accurate diagnosis. Finding this care is vital to ensuring you get the best quality of life you can. But how do you find a good doctor? Do you have to be treated poorly in order to recognize that they were not a “good” doctor?
Of course not! There are clear signs you can look for to determine if a doctor is worth keeping beside you on this journey. Here in the US, we have the luxury of being able to choose our doctors and, in that case, you can search for one that fits your expectations. Here are 5 signs to look for in a good doctor:
1. You get to finish your sentences
Did you know that on average, patients have 11 seconds to explain their reason for visiting before their physician interrupts? That means you have only 11 seconds to fit in an entire story of how your symptoms started, what medical care you’ve received thus far, and why you’re currently at this new doctor’s office. 11 seconds is not nearly enough time.
If you happen to be seeing one of the few doctors who lets you go on until you run out of things to say then they’re likely worth keeping on your team. It’s important to have at least one doctor who is willing to cover all of your medical history, usually this will be your primary care provider. This makes sure that no part of your story goes unheard. As a patient, you may glance over certain details that could be the solution to your mystery problems. A doctor who is good at listening will catch these things and help point you in the right direction. On one hand, if you find yourself not feeling rushed when you speak that's a good sign, but on the other hand, there are times when doctors should interrupt.
2. They ask the right questions
If you have a doctor that listens, they will also have relevant and important questions for you. Some doctors may ask questions that come off as condescending or demeaning, such as asking if you’ve seen a psychologist, tried losing weight, or exercising more. While writing a doctor off due to just one poorly-phrased question is premature, they can be early warning signs of where the conversation is going. It’s important to pause in these moments and ensure that you are expressing your point correctly. This doctor just met you, after all, and they’re trying just as hard to read you as you are reading them, so they might make incorrect assumptions at first.
A good listener will ask relevant questions. This is especially true when focusing on a symptom. Your doctor may ask something like if the pain is sharp or if it keeps you up at night. These questions can help guide the doctor towards what sort of system that is misfiring whenever you experience a symptom.
3. They acknowledge your knowledge
Another part of having a doctor that is a good listener is that they will be able to tell the clueless patient from the well-informed one. This doctor will understand that you don’t toss around diagnosis or test possibilities lightly. They may compliment your ability to express yourself, organize your thoughts, or even understand the many ways your particular diagnosis affects you. Not every patient is like this - so it’s not a sign you’ll see in every good doctor per say - but many of us are, especially those with rare diagnosis. A smart doctor will be able to recognize an equally smart patient.
4. They let you be part of the decisions
While we’re on the topic of smartness, a good doctor will also discuss your options openly. They will tell you what can be done, usually giving as many options as they can. In medicine, no disability can be treated by one, clear-cut approach. What gets done to each patient varies greatly, but it’s not something that should be only up to the doctor. This should instead be a communal discussion between both doctor and patient, one where you feel your voice and your comfort is being heavily weighed in the decision-making process. If you don’t feel like a doctor is taking the time to clearly lay out all your options, then they may not be the right doctor for you.
5. They don’t give up when one test comes back normal
Most importantly, a good doctor doesn’t walk away just because the answer isn’t easy. If you have a rare disease, you’re almost certain to have experienced this awful gut-wrenching experience. The one where a doctor gives up, because the first test they ran was normal and they have no other ideas to explore. This discouraging situation often leaves the patient in pain or some other discomfort, with no hope for answers in the future. It’s frustrating, life-disrupting, and simply bad healthcare. Everyone deserves the right to answers. Everyone deserves to be as symptom free as possible. If your doctor does not treat you like that, then you should find a new one.
These aren’t rules to follow and certainly some amazing doctors may not fit this list. That’s okay! The final and most important part is to remember that your doctor needs to fit your needs. That is a decision only you can make and no matter of lists on the internet will be able to predict your situation. In the end, trust your instincts. If you have a good feeling about a doctor who does one or two red flags, then give them a chance. But if your doctor simply does not fit into your healthcare needs, then don’t be afraid to find someone who does.
If you are looking for more resources and support surrounding chronic illness, check out our other blogs:
- 10 Things Chronic Pain Taught Me
- Finding Friends In The Chronic Illness Community
- Working Full-Time With A Chronic Illness
What are some other signs of having a good doctor? Let us know in the comments or share your story with us here. We love hearing from our community members!