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Time for a New Doctor? These Red Flags Will Help You Decide

Are you unhappy with your current doctor but reluctant to break up with him or her? Leaving your doctor and finding a new one is difficult, but sticking with a relationship that isn't working can be harmful to your health.


As many as 10 percent of patients consider switching doctors every year, notes Gerald Hickson, M.D. of Vanderbilt University in an article published by AARP. Most of them move to a new practice, but about a quarter stick with their doctor even though they're dissatisfied with their care.


The doctor-patient relationship is personal and important, and it's crucial that you trust, like, and feel supported by your physician. If you think your exams are too quick, feel your doc isn't taking your symptoms seriously, or are just generally unhappy with the office, staff, or your physician, it is time to move.


The following red flags can help you know when it's time to start shopping for a new doc:


1. Your doctor doesn't listen to you.


Feeling ignored is one of the most common reasons people give for switching doctors. If your doctor spends more time talking than listening, repeatedly asks questions you've already answered, or rushes you out the door before you even have a chance to speak, you can't get the level of care you deserve.


2. Your doctor won't consider any other source of information.


Does your GP ignore everything you find on the internet, even if it comes from a reliable source? Does he refuse to listen to the ideas of your other doctors, read medical studies you share, or listen to concerns about medication interactions you've discussed with your pharmacist? These are all huge red flags and may mean your doctor's ego is bigger than his desire to help you.


3. Your doctor doesn't play well with others.


If you have trouble getting a referral to a specialist or find that your doctor refuses to cooperate with other medical professionals, you must wonder if it's time to find a new practice. Your primary care physician isn't a specialist and should know when a second opinion or more specialized care is needed.


This extends beyond writing referrals, too. You want a doctor who follows up on your specialist appointments and keeps track of your medications to ensure nothing prescribed by another doctor will interact with your current meds.


4. Your doctor doesn't believe you are really sick.


Does your doctor attribute all your symptoms to stress, anxiety, hormones, or growing older? Or does he tell you your problems are psychosomatic without really considering other diagnoses? If so, it's time to move on.


A psychosomatic disorder, or somatic symptom disorder (SSD), should be a diagnosis of exclusion, given only after "all other possible causes have been ruled out," according to Patrick Neustatter, M.D., author of "Managing Your Doctor: The Smart Patient's Guide to Getting Effective, Affordable Healthcare."


And, if a full work up turns up nothing, Dr. Neustatter notes, "It is important for the doctor to explain they understand the symptoms are very real, even if there is no obvious organic cause. And anxious patients need more time and explanation than others."


5. Your doctor refuses to consider any alternative treatments.


Are you scared to mention that herbal treatment your friend recommended? Does your doctor shut you down every time you ask about acupuncture or another, less conventional treatment? If so, Dr. Neustatter says it is time to find someone new.


"If you find a successful treatment that's not doing you harm and your doctor is totally against it--move on. If alternative treatments are beneficial and not doing any harm (which includes paying exorbitant prices) then go with it, but make sure your doctor knows about it. Some alternative medicines/treatments can have adverse interactions on medical conditions and allopathic treatments."


6. Your doctor is rude or inconsiderate.


It takes just a few minutes to read a medical chart to familiarize yourself with a patient. If your physician can't find time to do this so he's aware of your symptoms and treatment history before he walks into the exam room, he's either extremely overbooked or very inconsiderate.


Other red flags are speaking to you in a patronizing or condescending way, making you feel dumb for asking questions, not returning your phone calls, and making you wait for hours before seeing you. Your time is as valuable as his, and you deserve to be respected and taken seriously.


7. Your doctor's staff is rude or inconsiderate.


Your doctor isn't the only one in the practice who should treat you with respect and consideration. If staff members are rude to you, fail to return your calls or give the doctor your messages, or wait days before calling in your prescriptions or sending referrals on your behalf, there's a serious problem and it may indicate they are unhappy with their jobs.


8. Your doctor chooses medication over everything else.


If your doc goes straight to the prescription pad at every appointment without even suggesting lifestyle changes or considering alternative therapies, especially for conditions that are associated with diet or overall fitness, he may be influenced by drug company representatives. You want a doctor that puts your needs first and isn't swayed by the perks offered by drug reps for pushing their pills.


Is It Time to Switch or Not?


If one or two of the above red flags apply to your situation, that doesn't necessarily mean you must find a new doctor. It does, however, mean it's time to start thinking about switching practices. There's no such thing as a perfect doctor and you're bound to find fault with anyone you see given enough time, but that doesn't mean you should settle for poor care.


Of course, if your doctor touches you or speaks to you inappropriately, asks you unnecessary personal questions, or creeps you out in any way for any reason, leave the practice at once.


Finding a New Doctor


If you've decided it's time to move on, the best place to begin is by asking another doctor or nurse for the name of a GP they trust. Other healthcare professionals have access to information your friends and family don't, and they evaluate doctors using different criteria than your mom does.


You'll also need to check with your insurance company to make sure any potential new docs are covered, and consider hospital affiliation if you have a strong preference. Make sure any new doctor you see is board certified, and don't be afraid to visit practices to check out the cleanliness and organization of the office and talk to the staff before deciding.

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