Searching for Dr. “Right”
“Chris glanced down at the doctor’s pocket. He saw the top of a book sticking out. ‘Are you studying Spanish?’ [he] asked.
…‘Yeah,’ [Dr. Weston] said. ‘So many of our patients who come in here are native Spanish speakers. I just thought I should learn how to communicate with them.’”
Excerpt from Goodnight, Sweet: A Caregiver’s Long Goodbye, Chapter 8 “Admission”
This exchange took place 24 years ago. We were newly arrived in Memphis with my grandparents who, following a cursory exam just two days prior, were both found to have dementia. We were seeking hospital admission so they could have a more in-depth evaluation following their initial diagnoses.
Dr. Weston, the ER physician on duty, had ordered a sedative for my highly agitated grandmother, and while we were waiting for it to take effect, Chris noticed the Spanish-English dictionary in the doctor’s pocket. I remember being so impressed with this man’s willingness to try to learn a second language so he could make a positive difference for as many of his patients as possible; it was apparent he wanted to do more than just practice “cookie cutter” medicine.
Being suddenly thrust into the position of providing care for my grandparents—and realizing I didn’t have the slightest idea how to go about it—I found myself highly dependent on professionals in the medical community. Physicians like Dr. Weston were much appreciated as they helped ease my transition from ordinary granddaughter to caregiver.
As liaison between my grandparents and their medical practitioners, I realized very quickly that my choice of a physician would directly affect them—not me. I needed to be sure the doctors working with my grandparents were truly interested in providing them with the best care possible.
So, as a caregiver, how do you go about finding the “right” doctor—a doctor who will be a good fit for your loved one? You can start by asking trusted friends or relatives about their physician(s). It can also be beneficial to check with your own insurance company for their recommendation(s) regarding both general practitioners and specialists. Once you have narrowed your search to two or three “finalists,” you can schedule a meeting (either in-person or virtually) with each one of them for an informal interview; WebMD advises that some doctors will charge for their time even when it’s a “new patient” interview, so be sure to ask about this when you schedule the visit. In addition to learning about the doctor’s personality and “bed-side” manner, WebMD suggests it would be good to look at the practice’s logistics by asking questions like:
- Which hospitals does the doctor use?
- Are routine X-rays and lab tests done in-office or will you have to take your loved one to an outside lab?
- How long must you wait for an appointment? Can your loved one be seen on the same day if there is an urgent need?
- Who covers for the doctor when they are away? Who would you call with an after-hours problem?
United Healthcare also stresses the importance of having a board-certified physician. The doctor achieves and maintains board certification by meeting the state’s licensing requirements and passing comprehensive exams in internal medicine; it also indicates the doctor is up-to-date with the latest developments in their particular field.
While the doctor’s attitude and manner of practicing medicine needs to be above reproach, it is equally important that patients and their caregivers have fair and reasonable expectations of the physician; for example, the doctor doesn’t have a schedule that permits a patient to spend hours casually chatting with them, nor can the doctor be personally available for consultation 24/7. Doctors, patients and their caregivers all need to work together to strike a proper balance between professional care and personal concern.
Truthfully, you’ll know after one or two interactions with any medical professional whether you want to move forward with a them or continue your search. It’s imperative that everyone involved feels confident with the person whose expertise is shaping the care plan. You want to know the doctor is listening to your concerns as well as walking through the range of options available for your loved one’s condition(s). If anyone comes away from the doctor’s visit with an uncomfortable feeling, or there are more questions than answers, don’t hesitate to re-start your search. So much rides on the trust you have in your loved one’s doctor; finding the right one is definitely a goal worth pursuing.