Ever feel like you’re doctor isn’t really listening? Well, that suspicion is probably true. An analysis published in January 2019 in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that patients get roughly 11 seconds to explain the cause for their visit before doctors interrupt.
The findings, along with prior research showing roughly half of our doctors are burned out and exhausted, may be alarming.
Should you give them the pink slip if they seem rushed and not tuned in to you? Those things may not make them a bad doctor, but should you fire your doctor?
“I found over the years patients often have a gut reaction, and I always tell them to listen to their gut,” says John Whyte, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. If you’re still wavering, there are some clear red flags to look for when evaluating health professionals.
Here are six things to consider when debating whether your M.D. should stay or go:
Your doctor cares about feedback
“The model is no longer doctor knows best,” says Eric Topol, M.D., director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, and Men’s Health advisor. And sure, you went to the doctor for a reason, but it’s your body.
A good doctor presents options, makes a specific recommendation—going with a surgical procedure or medication—and explains why he believes it’s the best, says Dr. Topol. Beware of an M.D. who has little time for questions, or says things like, “This is really the only way.”
“If a doctor is unwilling to explain his or her treatment plan and gets offended at you asking questions that would be a significant red flag,” says Dr. Whyte.
Your doctor works well with others
When it comes to coordinating with other physicians, check that your doctor is talking to other providers involved in your care. If you’re being treated for a more serious issue—cancer or a heart problem, for instance—your doc should make it clear that he’s consulted with your oncologist or cardiologist and is up-to-date on your health.
Your doctor is a good communicator
“The good doctor always takes enough time to explain diagnoses and treatments to patients in ways that they can understand,” says Dr. Whyte. Unanswered calls or emails are another bad sign, since you shouldn’t chase your doctor down for help. He says doctors should communicate within 48 hours of your message.
Your doctor is up to date
Burnout means exhaustion, which could mean he’s behind on recent medical journals or the latest technology. And while you shouldn’t sideline a doc for being slow on the latest tech, it’s a green light if he asks about a program you’re using so he can research it—assuming he actually does. Your physician should be willing to work with information you present him, and share his educated opinion, Dr. Topol adds.
Does he pay attention?
Look for body language that’s he’s all there—facing you, looking up frequently even when entering information into files, nodding, and maintaining eye contact, says Dr. Stork. “Even if your appointment is 7 to 12 minutes, he shouldn’t make you feel rushed,” Dr. Topol adds. Another good sign: He asks about you. Even if he doesn’t remember every single patient, a good doctor takes the time to review your file before, Dr. Topol says. If your physician is asking whether you’ve had a certain procedure done or what treatments you’ve had, it’s clear he hasn’t reviewed your file.
You’re not feeling better
Above all, doctors should be good clinicians, meaning they accurately diagnose conditions and provide effective treatments, says Whyte. He says you may want to start shopping around if you don’t notice any improvements despite following the treatment plan. “Bad outcomes or not getting better doesn’t automatically mean you have a bad doctor but you do want to start thinking about it,” he says.
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