When we decide we need a new doctor, it often is not a tranquil time. The opportunity for thoughtful analysis and careful evaluation isn’t there. On the contrary, it may be an emotional or frustrating time. But why do we need or want a change? The current situation is not working. This roadmap was created to help you find that excellent doctor for yourself or a loved one, and a professional environment that does work.
The goal of our search is a positive doctor-patient working relationship. Achieving that goal requires an effort for both the patient (or the patient’s parent) and the doctor. The payback: less stress, less misunderstandings, better results. Studies have shown that the best predictor of success in treatment is a positive doctor-patient relationship.
The good news is that we are living in an age where such a relationship is definitely possible. The internet enables patients to gather a great deal of information. It also facilitates accurate health records, and email communication. Many doctors welcome a patient who wants to be involved in the treatment process.
The process of finding and keeping a good doctor requires diligence. It is not necessarily difficult, but it requires preparation. The first step is to list your needs – what do you expect/need the doctor to do? This will be critical as you begin your screening process.
Make a list of potential doctors. Review your insurer’s list of doctors; some provide results of customer surveys with questions such as “does your doctor listen and explain things to you.” Network with anyone you believe has good information, especially advocacy organizations like the AHA Association (www.ahany.org).
Contact potential doctors with your prepared list of questions and information ready. Doctors value time, information and relationships. Your list should include: Who referred you; Your needs – be clear and concise; His experience? If the parent of an adult, how is communication with the parent handled? Session management? Method of payment?
Develop a list of alternatives and evaluate your options, using the information you have gathered, plus important factors like how quickly your initial phone call was returned, and do you like and feel comfortable with the doctor?
Bring copies of old evaluations. Bring your medicine bottles or a current list. Teach your doctor (family history, drug reactions, intervention record, traumatic incidents). Bring a master list of key providers, with contact information.
Bring questions into visit time. Ask about alternatives; Is there anything that doesn’t fit in the diagnosis? Is there anything else it could be? Could there be more than one problem? Do not leave without a clear understanding of what is wrong, the treatment plan, why, and the specifics.
Your Contribution to the Process
A good doctor-patient relationship is not a spectator sport. You and your child, whether adult or school age, are a vital part of that relationship.
Be informed – Especially if you are the parent of an adult child, you must be aware of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. By law, the doctor cannot disclose information about your adult child without their permission. However, a savvy practitioner can convey vital information to you without breaking the privacy and trust of the patient (You should be aware of the doctor’s approach from your initial visit).
Be respectful of the doctor’s time – Don’t be late. If you have a question or need a letter, bring it up at the beginning of the session.
Keep good records – Create a medication/intervention record with dates, interventions, doses, and results. Record if stopped and why.
Communicate – If you make changes to your medication, let the doctor know what you did and why and the result.
Provide feedback – Send a complimentary letter when you are pleased.
When it’s Just Not Working
If you decide after a reasonable amount of time, that things are just not working for you or your child, you may want to revisit some of the questions you initially asked, i.e., “Is there anything that doesn’t fit? Is there anything else it could be? Could it be more than one thing?” Provide feedback by telling your doctor what you need. Ask what you can do. Ask for help in finding another doctor if you believe that is best for you.
Don’t be afraid to change doctors. You learn from each relationship, and change is one step closer to success.
Finding a good doctor can be a challenge. Changing the emphasis from simply finding a “good doctor” to developing a positive doctor-patient working relationship can alter your search, and hopefully provide a satisfactory long-term result.
This article was inspired by a lecture given by Peter Della Bella, MD, at the AHA Association 2008 Spring Conference at Adelphi University. The title of his talk was “How to Make Your Physician Work for You.” I am grateful for his thoughtful insights, and trust this article is faithful to his intent.
Mary K. Meyer is chapter coordinator of the Adult Issues North Chapter for ASPEN. She is also a founding member of the Asperger’s Coalition – a six-member organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of adults with Asperger’s Syndrome. Mary also serves on the NJ Governor’s Task Force on the Needs of Adults with Autism.