Scalpel's Edge

A surgeon's notes

How to find a quality family doctor

This article is part of a patient education series that I previously published elsewhere. Explanation is here. If you have already read this article, please accept my apologies.

With a quality GP you can “play” the healthcare system

A good primary care doctor, or general practitioner is the key to “playing” the health care system. They can be your passport to skipping queues, finding the best specialist, getting timely appointments, getting the best after hours care, and attention to the things you worry about.

I have written more about the need for a good GP previously. Now I would like to give explain one way to find the right doctor.

How to find your new family doctor

It is in our control to find a better doctor. There are very few people that are limited to only one family doctor in their town. Most of us have the luxury of 3 or 5 or 15. However, we get stuck going to a doctor we aren’t happy with. This is silly – patients are the consumers.

You wouldn’t go to a bad restaurant every week, so don’t continue going to a bad or even average doctor.

Recognizing that you are the consumer is vital – you are not limited to one provider, and you have no obligation to continue to use a service that you are not happy with.

I always knew these principles in theory, but it took having a family to realise their importance. I had been seeing a doctor for many years, one that I was “putting up with”. I had not been happy with the referrals she made and was not thrilled with her manner, but it was good enough. But when my daughter was born, I realised I needed someone better. My daughter was too precious to entrust to half-rate, “good enough” medical care. So I started looking around all the doctors in my area, and after a few visits, found someone I was really happy with, who continues to care for my family today.

I feel really happy with that decision – it is one of the most important things I ever did to care for my family.

Here is one process for finding a good doctor:

  1. Look at your relationship with your current doctor
  2. Are you happy? Do you feel you can trust them, and talk to them about embarrassing problems. Can you get an appointment when you need one? Do you have good conversations. Do you like them as a person, and respect their knowledge? Do they know you and your family and what is important to you? Would you trust them to make decisions about what medication to give you, or what treatment to offer, if they couldn’t discuss it with you?

    If you answer YES to all of these questions, congratulations, you have the doctor that is right for you. If you answered NO to some questions, then it may be fixable. Trusting your doctor to make your decisions is the basic test of whether they are right for you. Normally good doctors consult with their patients, but as they can’t possibly explain all the variables, then they will have to abbreviate and select and recommend based on what they know of you. Maybe you need to have a conversation about your priorities, so that thy understand you better.

  3. Figure out what you need from your doctor.
  4. Is the gender of your doctor important to you? Do you have to be able to get an appointment at the last minute, or is after hours service more important? Is it more important to have a free service, or are you willing to pay out of pocket to go to the right doctor? Should the practice be close to home or work? Do you need a doctor who is right for all your family, or are you willing to go somewhere else to find someone that suits you personally?

  5. Try someone new.
  6. It doesn’t really matter who you try, but feel free to try as many doctors as you like. You have an opportunity every time you get sick. You can try recommendations from friends or family, or you can just work you way around the different practices. It is ok to try someone out. You are not obligated to continue seeing the same person. Remember, you are the consumer, and they are providing the service. You will probably have to fill in new forms at every place you go to, but that doesn’t oblige you to keep going.

  7. When you find someone you like, tell them all your secrets
  8. The best way to form a relationship with someone is to share your trust. Doctors need to know all the background to your health to help you make decisions in the future. Let them know about all the little things about your health, and your relationship will develop so that you can trust them when you need to.

  9. If you get disatisfied again, repeat this process
  10. Most importantly, never give up. Your needs change over time, as mine did when I had kids. If you retire, you will probably be less demanding about after hours appointments. If you develop a chronic illness, you may prefer a different style of practitioner.

In today’s “ehealth” environment, we are not stuck with the same doctor for life, so claim your right to upgrade. Find the right doctor, and start to take more control of your healthcare.

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