Many people have experienced some of the common complaints patients can have about their doctors. These can range from inconveniences like being kept waiting too long in the waiting room, to more serious concerns like feeling that the doctor doesn’t really listen when you try to talk about your health problems. Read more from the Wall Street Journal
If you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor and the office staff — starting from when you first call to make an appointment, through your exam and any follow-up communications that are needed — it may be time to fire your physician. He calls the relationship between a doctor and a patient one of the most important ones you’ll ever have. If you don’t feel like you can communicate well with your doctor, it may be difficult to get to the bottom of complex medical problems, and that could put your health at risk.
Among patients’ biggest medical gripes are unclear explanations, delays in communicating test results, hard-to-resolve billing disputes and rushed office visits, according to a recent Consumer Reports survey of 1,000 Americans. Difficulty getting a timely appointment also ranked high.
If the doctor-patient partnership isn’t working, it’s important to try to fix it or find a better fit, says Orly Avitzur, medical adviser at Consumer Reports.
If you’re thinking of leaving your doctor, weigh your options. Your doctor may be more receptive to your concerns than you think. If you don’t want to confront him or her, or if your chief complaints are with administrative issues, tell an office manager or ask for a patient satisfaction survey, Dr. Avitzur says. Some doctors’ offices use such surveys, which can be filled out anonymously, to improve their practices.
Another solution if your doctor is in a group practice and you have a problem with his or her style is to switch to another physician in the same office.
Of course, not all problems are repairable. Should you decide to cut ties, remember that you’re entitled to receive a copy of your medical information, except psychotherapy notes, under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Doctors’ offices typically charge an administrative fee per page copied, and each state has different laws as to how much that can be, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Starting in late September, patients will be able to get a copy of their electronic medical records as well.
1 You leave with more questions than answers.
Communication is a shared responsibility, but physicians have a duty to explain things in clear language. If that’s not happening, don’t be intimidated to say so. “It’s important that you speak up and say ‘I’m still not clear what’s wrong with me’ or ‘I’m still not clear what is the next step,’ ” Dr. Avitzur says.
After a hospital stay, effective communication with your doctor can help keep you from having to be readmitted, which can be costly.
2 Your doctor dismisses your input and questions.
Your doctor should encourage your questions and consider any Internet research you’ve done, says Alanna Levine, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and a pediatrician in Tappan, N.Y. At the same time, patients should be open to guidance on which online information sources are reliable, she says.
3 Your doctor has misdiagnosed you.
Firing the doctor makes sense if a missed diagnosis turned into a life-threatening or catastrophic event. But not every missed diagnosis is a sign of negligence, Dr. Avitzur says, and sometimes patients are wise to first see whether the doctor apologizes or offers a credible explanation of what went wrong.
Sometimes, what seems like a missed diagnosis is actually the natural course of an illness, Dr. Levine says. For example, a child may have a miserable cold that a pediatrician calls a viral infection and treats with comfort care. But an ear infection could develop hours later, requiring a second office visit and antibiotics, she says.
4 Your doctor balks at a second opinion.
Your doctor shouldn’t be offended if you want a second opinion, Dr. Avitzur says. Most physicians are used to the request and are happy to supply names of other doctors, she says. “If the reaction you get makes you feel badly, that’s definitely a reason to fire your doctor.”
Health insurers typically cover second opinions.
5 Your doctor isn’t board-certified.
Being board-certified, or board-eligible if it’s a doctor right out of medical school, means the physician has ongoing assessments and extra continuing-education requirements in his or her specialty beyond those required for a license to practice medicine in your state. You can check board certification free at certificationmatters.org or call 866-275-2267.