My previous posts addressed the difficulty in finding a good doctor and how such a doctor is one who makes you feel better. In this post, I describe some characteristics of such a good doctor:
1) Your doctor should care about you as an individual. Every patient has her own story--not just of illness and symptoms, but also who she is as a person. Your doctor should make an effort to get to know you. Not only is this the best way to actually find out about your illness and thus to help you, hearing your story shows that your doctor genuinely cares about you. The time you have with your doctor may be limited, and sometimes you may even be meeting your doctor for the first time. However, you can get the sense pretty quickly if the doctor is simply filling out a checklist or if he genuinely cares about you and your story.
2) Your doctor should value the partnership she has with you. Medical care should not be about the doctor telling you what to do; rather, your doctor should involve you in your care as an equal partner. She should listen to your story, answer your questions, and actively involve you in every step of the diagnostic and decision-making process. This isn't just lip service; you should feel that your opinion matters.
3) Your doctor should see medical practice as a life-long learning process. Medicine is a constantly evolving field. Your doctor should be willing to learn and to refine her practice with each patient, striving to get better rather than to stagnate in cookbook patterns and algorithms.
4) Your doctor should be willing to ask for help. This is not to mean that doctors shouldn't think for themselves; there are many times when a primary care doctor can resolve an issue and you do not need a referral, for example. However, if there is a particularly complex or puzzling case, your doctor should be willing to look up information and/or seek assistance from others. Asking for help does not equate incompetence; rather, it should increase your faith in your doctor's ability and humility.
5) Your doctor should prioritize your diagnosis. As we talk about in our book, When Doctors Don't Listen, your diagnosis is critical to your understanding of your illness and to everything else that follows. Your doctor should make sure that you are provided a diagnosis at the end of your visit.
6) Your doctor needs to be available. During the visit, you need to feel that he is available to listen to you and that he actually hears what you are saying. He should be available to answer your questions. It might be unrealistic to expect that your doctor is also there for you 24/7; however, you should know, before you leave your doctor's care, how you can get help. Make sure you understand your followup. When are you supposed to come back? What are things to watch out for? What should you do if something new or worse happens?
7) You should feel comfortable with your doctor. This trust is perhaps the most fundamental of all. If you do not feel at ease with your doctor, you might not share critical information, and important pieces of the puzzle might be missed--leading to misdiagnosis.
This is the ideal doctor who will guide you through the process of making your correct diagnosis and lead you to the right treatment. This is the ideal doctor that you can trust, who will be your partner in your healthcare, who communicates well, and who really values you as a person.
Not all of us are as fortunate to have this ideal doctor, but if we do not, there are things that we can do to help make our doctor into the ideal doctor that we have always wanted. Our book talks about the steps patients can take to advocate for better care and a patient-centered approach to your medical care. Stay tuned for more; in the meantime, I'd love to hear your comments.