Healthcare is like real estate: It’s a buyer’s market. Just because you’ve been seeing the same physician for ten years doesn’t mean it isn’t time to switch.
Let me tell you a little story about what happened to me the other day. I’ve been going to the same specialist for about a year. Now, understand, for me to be with a doctor that long means I really, really like the care I’m getting, because I’m not one to put up with nonsense.
But nonsense is what I got when I arrived for my 2PM appointment and found the door locked. No sign, no notice to say they had stepped out and when they’d be back. But I waited – for twenty minutes. When the doctor and his assistant finally showed up, laughing and giggling like they’d either been out for a liquid lunch or had been canoodling in a broom closet, they greeted me but didn’t apologize for keeping me waiting or being late. But I figured the doctor would do so once we were alone in the examination room. Wrong. No apology or explanation ever came. I was mad enough about being made to wait, but when someone doesn’t own up to their mistake, I get madder than a swarm of bees who’ve had their honey stolen.
But I stifled my anger. Instead, I’m going to hit him where it hurts: right in his wallet. That’s right, I’m going to take my business elsewhere. Because, as I said earlier, healthcare is a buyer’s market. And if there’s one area of my life I don’t mess around with, it’s my health and my family’s. We all need to make sure we’re doing our due diligence to take care of our health by asking the right questions and following proper procedures.
Test-Driving a New Doc
If you’re not sure whether your physician is up to snuff, or you’re seeing a new physician for the first time, make sure they pass muster. Ask questions and see how they respond.
One of the most important questions to ask is what sort of patient he commonly prescribes antidepressants or painkillers to, and how many of his patients are currently taking them. Even if he can’t give you an exact statistic, he should be able to provide an estimate. Ask if the practice has an active therapist, life coach, counselor, or someone they refer patients to, then ask if you’re a candidate for a referral to that person. Find out if the practice has alternate practitioners, such as acupuncturists, massage therapists, or life coaches, if that’s your thing.
After your appointment, think about how long the doctor took with you – actual face-to-face interaction. If he wrote you a prescription, this piece of info is even more vital. If it’s less than fifteen minutes, seek another opinion, pronto. You want someone who is going to fully understand your situation before they start you down the prescription path. I’ve made it a point to find a doctor who sees me for a full hour. Yes, he’s pricier, but I can see the difference – and not just in my medicine cabinet.
Go to your appointment armed with questions to ask your doctor. Make sure they’re answered and not just talked around. Evading a question is a red flag. Can’t get a straight answer? Walk out the door. If your doc can’t tell you approximately how many of their patients are on antidepressants, go elsewhere. They’re either not up on their practice or they’re hiding something.
When you asked questions, who answered them? If it was the doctor or registered nurse, score one for the practice! But if it was an uncredentialed employee – and you need to ask what the employee’s credentials are – it’s very likely you’re getting your very important health information from a junior team member with limited knowledge. You don’t want limited. You want the whole shebang.
If your doctor gives you a preliminary diagnosis, you may want it to be verified through follow-up, such as with scans, x-rays, or by visiting a specialist. If you have a rash or infection, for example, you might get referred to a disease specialist or dermatologist. If you don’t get a medical term for what is wrong with you, seek another opinion. Every condition has a special code, called an ICD9 (International Classification of Diseases), that will become part of your medical record, so make sure you know what this is and that it’s not just some generic term the doctor came up with.
You want specifics. Knowing the ICD9 also means you can do your own research without worrying if you have the exact right terminology.
If you see several physicians, they should be communicating with each other. Specialists need to send detailed summaries of your patient visit to your primary care physician. The lack of information between physicians is one of the reasons that patients are prescribed medications that cause a drug-drug interaction. You can’t blame Physician 1 if Physician 2 prescribed you a medication he didn’t know about. It’s up to you to ensure your physicians communicate with each other.
You’re Accountable, Too
As mentioned earlier, you need to prep for a doctor’s appointment by making a list of questions. One you’re there, take good notes. Buy a calendar and record your doctor’s appointments and any symptoms, drugs reactions, etc. Show it to the doctor when you return. This way you’re providing him with as much information as you can so that he can better diagnose you.
For example, if you’re on a new prescription, maybe you can’t sleep a full eight hours like you were previously, or perhaps your appetite has decreased. If you have a 5% weight loss in less than four weeks, you need to tell that doctor. (If it’s purposeful weight loss, pat yourself on the back, girlfriend! If it’s not, you may be having a drug-drug interaction or an adverse reaction to the medication.)
Your calendar should also include a list of any over-the-counter products you might be taking, even herbal supplements. This way your physician can make sure there aren’t any drug-drug interactions before they write you a prescription. Even something as simple as St. John’s wort can cause problems with certain meds, so make sure you tell your doctor everything you’re taking.
If you do decide to take a prescription, avail yourself of the pharmacist. That’s why she’s there – to answer your questions and address your concerns. Read the materials that come with your prescription, or look ‘em up on the pharmaceutical website. The pharm company isn’t trying to hide anything. They’re giving you the information that’s legally required of them so you can take care of your health. As for over-the-counter medication, that’s a whole other ballpark. That industry isn’t as strictly regulated, so you have to be careful what you’re taking.
Did you know that many pharmaceutical companies offer patient assistance programs if you can’t afford a drug? Your doctor’s office should be able to help you complete a form for such a program.
Finding Your New Doctor
If you’re not sure where to find a new physician, ask around. Search the Internet and read reviews. If you’re coming up empty, see if your area has a teaching hospital. These are excellent places to go for healthcare, as there are several tiers of professionals: medical students, residence interns, attending physicians. And if you want a second opinion, there are plenty of other warm, knowledgeable bodies right there to choose from. Some examples of renowned teaching hospitals are Duke University, John Hopkins University, Baylor University in Dallas, the University of Texas in Houston, the University of Colorado in Denver, and UCLA in Los Angeles. The United States has a wide range of access to excellent medical care, so sometimes you just need to get a second pair of eyes to see what somebody else says.
Your health is one of your most important assets. Make sure you put it in the right hands!