Is My Doctor The Right One For Me?
5 Important Questions That Can Help You Decide
“How a doctor thinks can first be discerned by how he speaks and how he listens,” writes Jerome Groopman M.D. in his latest book, “How Doctors Think,” which examines the importance of communication between doctors and patients, and its impact on diagnosis and treatment.
Doctors depend on patients to tell them about their illnesses; but physicians also rely on heuristics, a system of general diagnosis, rooted in collective medical experience and probability. A patient’s story, with its subtleties and clues, may offer essential information that can be easily overlooked, which is why good communication between doctor and patient is necessary.
Here are five important questions that can help you decide if your doctor is a good fit:
1. Does your doctor welcome your questions?
Research has shown that the ways in which a doctor asks questions and responds to a patient’s emotions are key when it comes to establishing a dialogue with a patient. Ideally, a physician’s goal is to create an environment where a patient feels free to speak and participate in that dialogue. If your doctor encourages your questions and answers them to the best of his or her ability, that’s a positive sign.
2. Does he or she listen to what you say?
Paying attention to what you have to say is important. According to Groopman, “Freedom of patient speech is necessary if the doctor is to get the clues of the medical enigma before him. If the patient is inhibited, or cut off prematurely or constrained into one path of discussion, then the doctor may not be told something vital.”
Just as listening to your experience is crucial for your doctor, you should feel comfortable speaking to him or her. Non-verbal communication—a doctor’s gestures, expression, posture, along with your own—can be as significant as spoken words.
Keeping a journal of your symptoms, their duration and intensity, as well as preparing any questions in advance of your appointment is helpful. Also, don’t be afraid to “interview” a new doctor about his experience and philosophy in treating IH or her expectations of your outcome. All of these actions can be useful in determining your doctor’s response to you as a patient.
The current range of treatment options and answers is limited for chronic IH, which can be frustrating for both you and your doctor. But it’s necessary to distinguish between these restrictions and whether your doctor is truly listening to you.
3. Does your doctor explain your diagnosis in understandable terms and show an interest in treating intracranial hypertension?
This question is closely related to the first and second questions. Is your doctor passionate—and compassionate—about treating chronic IH? Does he or she seek out information about chronic intracranial hypertension and show an interest in learning about the disorder? Does your doctor make an effort to inform you about chronic IH and your particular case? How does he or she respond when you present information to him or her about IH?
Questions like these can help gauge your doctor’s interest in chronic IH (and if he or she has a desire to know more), along with his or her commitment to keeping you well-informed about your diagnosis.
4. Do you have confidence in your doctor’s ability to treat you?
Every doctor has had different experiences when it comes to treating chronic IH. If your doctor is a specialist, like a neurosurgeon or a neuro-opthalmologist, he or she may see only one side of the disorder. And since a number of specialists frequently care for patients with chronic IH, encouraging a team approach is useful. However, a particular doctor’s educational background and interest in chronic IH research (and the subject in general) can offer insight into whether your doctor is right for you. Asking other patients about their experiences with your doctor may also be helpful.
But perhaps the best way to judge a doctor’s ability is to examine his response to you and your situation. Simply put, Groopman says, trust your gut. In a recent CNN interview, he said that a doctor who doesn’t like a patient often stereotypes him or her. “I was terribly guilty of this as a young doctor. One of my patients said she had indigestion, and I got very irritated with her, and thought she was a whiner and a complainer,” he said. “It was catastrophic because she actually had a torn aorta.”
The woman later died. “I have never forgiven myself for failing to diagnose it,” he writes in “How Doctors Think.” “There was a chance she could have been saved.”
5. Do you feel bad when you leave your doctor’s office?
While you may feel bad because of your illness, a trip to the doctor’s shouldn’t make you feel bad about yourself.
No one knows why IH happens. Is it genetic? Are there environmental triggers? Are some people more likely to develop this disorder than others? Chronic IH can happen to anyone at anytime, regardless of gender, age, weight, race and ethnicity. You should not feel that having chronic IH is your own fault.
A doctor’s primary goal is to make you better. It’s important to ask the questions discussed in this article. It’s also important to ask yourself: Am I doing what is required of me? Learning about your disorder and becoming an informed patient can improve your doctor-patient relationship and assist in decision-making with your doctor. Treating a chronic illness like IH is a partnership; it takes patience, compassion and perhaps most importantly, a willingness to listen, learn and respond to your personal circumstance.
To Learn More:
For more information on the doctor-patient relationship, please see:
Groopman, M.D., Jerome. How Doctors Think. New York: Houghton Mifflin
For more questions on determining whether your doctor is right for you, see Finding a Doctor