Though people change doctors more often these days, in many cases it is due to a change in insurance plans and the need to find someone “in network”. Most Americans are distrustful of the healthcare system, but more than two-thirds of the public (69%) rate the honesty and ethical standards of physicians as a group as “very high” or “high” (Gallup 2013). We don’t like the system, probably don’t trust the leadership, but we have faith in our docs. Nevertheless, there are some warning signs that it may be time to move on from your doctor. Here are some that relate to the level of customer service, and some that involve health risks:
- Your doctor is nearly impossible to reach: Routine questions or messages left at the office should be returned in 1-2 business days, and without your having to make multiple calls. Your doctor may not call you back, depending on the issue, but a member of the staff, who has discussed the question with the doctor, should. It should not take multiple tries on your part to get a reply. If it does, it suggests that the practice doesn’t have good systems in place, and that they may miss something crucial.
If it is after hours and you have an urgent problem, someone in your doctor’s practice, if not the doctor herself, should be on call. Any calls left with an answering service should be returned in 2-3 hours at most, unless the doctor is in the middle of a surgical procedure of some other emergency. If you have left messages on more than one occasion with the answering service and never heard back, it is probably time to look elsewhere.
- You rarely are told about your test results: It seems every medical practice has their own system of sharing test results. Sometimes a staff member calls, sometimes the results are released electronically through a patient portal, or you might get an email or text if you opted in. No matter how results are shared, it should be clear to you how and when it will happen. Unless your doctor is ordering a rare or unusual test, your results should be available in 3-4 business days at most, and you should hear about results in 4-5 days. Urgent or very serious results are often shared within 24-36 hours. If you never hear about results, or it takes you multiple attempts to get an answer, it is a sign your doctor’s practice might not have adequate systems in place to ensure your safety and stay organized.
- You find yourself waiting for the doctor for a long time at each visit, many of your appointments are canceled at the last minute: We all wait in the doctor’s office, even other doctors. Very often it is because a patient has an unexpected finding or issue, and the doctor needs to take more time than planned. Any of us who are getting bad news would want the doctor to take his or her time and not rush out to the next patient, so the occasional long wait is understandable. However, if you always wait more than an hour, or worse yet, find that many appointments are canceled at the last minute (less than a couple of days before), it is a sign that the doctor’s practice may be trying to see more patients than they can safely handle. If your involuntarily scheduled reappointment is more than a month away, you can be sure the office is overwhelmed. In some cases, especially if you are seeing a specialist, it may be that there aren’t enough of that type of doctor in your area and they are doing their best, so ask your primary care provider if you have other options.
- You just don’t feel comfortable: Maybe you feel like the doctor doesn’t listen to you, or the staff is rude or dismissive. Maybe you just don’t feel like you “connect”. Whatever the reason, the doctor’s practice is the place where you turn if you have a very serious problem. You are entitled to both consideration and compassion. Even if you are healthy, if you just don’t have good feelings about your doctor or his office, move on. Healing relationships between doctor and patient are based on mutual trust, and if you are not feeling that, you owe it to yourself to find someone who gives you confidence.
It isn’t easy to make the decision to find a new doctor, but the issues covered here are signs that you may not be in the right hands, or the safest ones. If you experience one or more of these problems, I would suggest you start looking elsewhere.