The Problem with Finding a Doctor

When was the last time you had to find a new doctor? Do you remember the process you went through to find that doctor? Did you get to speak to any doctors before going in to have full-fledged appointments with them? Or did you simply call the receptionist and get an appointment where you ended up in an exam room with someone you’d barely met three minutes ago poking at you and asking very personal questions?

It seems to make so much sense that a prospective patient should be able to meet or speak to a doctor before deciding to become an actual patient and be examined by them, doesn’t it? So why is it not the way our medical community works?

Call up your doctor’s receptionist and ask for an appointment to meet the doctor, just to talk. Such an appointment would probably only need something like a fifteen minute slot (you can say a lot in fifteen minutes) and no nurse or exam room at all – simply a few minutes with the doctor in their office or over the phone. Most likely you will be met with confusion at such a request and an “our office/Dr. Smith doesn’t do that kind of thing” response.

Why is that? A doctor is someone who you’ll need to share your most intimate secrets with. Who is really only going to be able to do their job well if you are comfortable with them and who you are only going to go see if you have no ambivalent feelings about. How are we, as patients, expected to form that kind of trust relationship so quickly with someone we aren’t even really given the chance to meet?

Whenever I need a new doctor (which has been frequently in the last five years, as I have moved twice to new states and have a chronic condition that requires me to have a set of doctors at all times), I do research first and find a list of people who might be the right fit for me.

I have a pretty good idea at the point about what I’m looking for in each type of doctor that I need. My regular doctor has to be able to explain things clearly and simply to me, they have to respect me and my unusual issues (ideally, they will have heard of my condition before I walk into their office and mention it), and they have to be willing to work with my other doctors. On the other hand, my neurologist doesn’t have to be able to explain things so well, but he or she does have to make me feel confident in the treatment I’m receiving, like they understand my specific condition and like they do not consider me a fascinating science experiment.

Once I’ve found a few possible candidates, I start making phone calls. I ask every receptionist if there is some time that I can call and speak to the doctor or if the doctor can give me a call back. Never has this question been answered in the affirmative. I’m starting to believe that doctors simply do not have telephones.

After that, I ask for an appointment to meet the doctor – one that will only consist of talking and will have no examination as part of the appointment. I have only once ever been told this was possible, and it still required me to go through the whole weighing/blood pressure/pulse/temperature thing as well as spend ten minutes discussing my medical history with a nurse. If I was only there to meet the doctor, why do I have to share every intimate detail of my life with some nurse I may never see again if I decide not to return to this office?

For nearly every doctor I have ever had I have had to start by making an exam appointment. While examining someone may be a perfectly amiable way to meet a person from the doctor’s point of view, sitting there going through the “who are you and why should I trust you?” questions in my underwear is not a particularly good way to make me feel comfortable or inclined to return.

I don’t feel like I’m crazy in wanting to get to have more agency and comfort when it comes to meeting and choosing a new doctor, either. A doctor is someone that I am expected to share every single intimate detail with, especially when something is going wrong, and someone that I am expected to be comfortable with looking at and touching every inch of my body, no matter how private or sensitive.

Is it so much to ask that I be able to speak to such a person before committing to this kind of relationship with them to make sure that I believe that I can trust them and feel respected by them, even when spread nearly naked on a table in front of them? I don’t think that it is and I find the fact that our current medical establishment treats patients like such a thing is insane absolutely disgraceful. If there is anything that indicates a disrespect for the patient, it’s this attitude that the patient doesn’t even have the right to speak to a doctor and decide if they are comfortable before being expected to strip down and submit to whatever exam is recommended.

2 Comments

  1. Alan said,

    July 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    I’m told that chanting, “Woo! Freedom! Best system in the world! Obamacare has death panels!” alleviates all symptoms of noticing that our health care system sucks.

    Brian has done similar things and similar stories. He was trying to actually shop around to save money, just like fans of the current system insist everyone should do, and like you discovered that he couldn’t actually do it..

    Oh, I made myself sad.

  2. Rosepixie said,

    July 23, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Yeah, I love how every book and website and such gives advice on what to ask a prospective doctor and what to look for, all as if you’re getting to interview these people ahead of time (or they are getting to interview you – believe me, the doctor liking and wanting to deal with you is every bit as important as you liking and wanting to deal with the doctor), but it never seems like that’s actually possible. I want to ask the people who write those things, “when do *you* get to ask these questions or find out if a doctor has those qualities?”

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