Updated: Sep 22, 2022
Don’t all doctors do the same thing? Why does the “right” physician even matter?
Well, technically, doctors are trained similarly, and, assuming competence, they should be able to provide similar services to patients. But the right doctor is not just a competent one, but one with whom you and your family have a great relationship.
The doctor-patient relationship is one of the most important relationships we will ever have ― it’s just as important as relationships with family, friends, and even pets. Remember, physicians make medical treatment decisions based not only on physical exams and test results but also on the information you give us. If you don’t have a good relationship with your physician, you may not be comfortable being open and honest. In turn, your physician might not be able to make the right diagnosis or choose the right medication for you. In short, your health can be positively or negatively affected by the quality of the relationship you have with your physician. Furthermore, don’t you deserve a physician who, in addition to being competent, is a good fit? Yes, you do.
Here are some tips for finding Dr. Right:
1) Ask your neighbor
What do you do when you move to a new city and need a haircut? You ask for recommendations. This is exactly how I suggest you begin your search for a new doctor ― ask friends and family for suggestions. Listen to what they like and don’t like about their doctor and ask detailed questions about not only the physician but the office and office staff.
2) Who’s your doc?
Find out if your physician is a DO or an MD. A DO is an osteopathic physician and an MD is an allopathic physician ― both DOs and MDs are fully licensed physicians who practice medicine and surgery in the U.S. Both practice all specialties (from dermatology to OBGYN to surgery) and often work side by side, but DOs have additional training in musculoskeletal medicine and often perform osteopathic manipulative therapy (“hands-on” treatment for a wide range of conditions). Go to DoctorsThatDO.org and ama-assn.org to learn more about DOs and MDs.
If you are looking for a primary care doctor, it is important to understand the difference between pediatrics, family medicine, and internal medicine physicians. Pediatricians generally treat children (up to age 18 or 21 in most cases), family physicians often treat all ages (from “birth to death”) and internists usually treat only adults.
Once you know this information, research whether your chosen physician is “board-certified.” This is an important designation because it indicates that the physician has expertise in the specialty in which they practice. To learn more about board certification, go to CertificationMatters.org or DoctorsThatDO.org.
3) Pick up the phone
Now it’s time to pick up the phone. Call the office and ask the front desk staff questions that are important to you. Does the physician run on time or do they tend to be late? How easy is it to get appointments? Is there a possibility that you and your family could be scheduled with someone other than your chosen physician? Knowing these details ahead of time will help ensure there are no surprises when you get to the office for your appointment.
4) Go for a test drive
Once you have selected your physician, “test drive” your new doc by scheduling an office visit to establish care. Go through your medical history with your new physician and get to know your doctor’s style. Ask questions to get a sense of what you can expect: Will he or she be available after hours if you have a medical concern? How are medication refills handled? What is the policy for specialist referrals? Will you be able to get your doctor on the phone if you want to speak directly to them?
After your visit, take a moment to reflect on your experience. What did you like and what didn’t you like? One visit usually isn’t enough to know exactly how compatible you and your physician will be, but it will at least tell you if you want to go back.
After a few visits, ask yourself the following:
Are you comfortable with your doctor?
Does your doctor seem interested in your health and well-being?
Can you talk honestly with your doctor?
Can you share your thoughts and concerns freely and without feeling judged?
Does your doctor listen to you?
Do you and your physician communicate in a productive way?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, I would suspect that you and your physician are well on your way to a long and productive relationship.
If you answered "no" to many of these questions, you might not have found the right doctor and I encourage you to keep looking.
The right doctor will make you and your family feel like you are people and not charts. The right doctor will make you feel comfortable and cared for, not judged, or condemned. The right doctor will put you and your family’s health first. This is the doctor that you deserve.
Invest time and energy into your search for Dr. Right and you will succeed, and don’t be afraid to keep looking until you find the one.
Remember, this is not simply a physician. This is your physician.
Dr. Jen Caudle is a board-certified Family Physician, Associate Professor at Rowan University, tv health expert, and video creator. Sign up to receive Dr. Jen's Daily Health Tips to get daily emails (Mon-Fri) with health information you can use to live a healthier life. Follow her on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok.