How to Know If You Have a Good Doctor

Photo:  Ground Picture (Shutterstock)
Photo: Ground Picture (Shutterstock)

If you’re taking the time out of your day (and the copay out of your wallet) to go see a doctor, you should be able to trust that they’re going to do a good job when it comes to managing your health. So consider these questions to know whether you have a good doctor, or whether you should think about finding somebody new.

Can you trust them enough to tell the truth?

Every doctor’s visit starts with you explaining why you’re here—or with the provider and their staff asking questions about how your health has been lately. You need to be able to trust your doctor enough to give honest answers, even if that means revealing details about your personal life, or admitting that you haven’t been following their prior advice.

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Do they take you seriously?

This is related to how much you trust your doc, but consider this question on its own. Do you feel like your doctor actually listens to what you’re saying, and takes your concerns seriously? Do you have an opportunity to communicate the things that matter to you? And do they make sure that you understand what’s going on? You shouldn’t leave the office unsure of why they ordered the tests or prescribed the treatments they did.

Your doctor should be able to have a conversation with you about your care and your concerns, and for it to be an honest conversation on both sides. (This applies to both of you.) For example, if you read about a drug you’d like to try or a test you think you need, you don’t want a doctor who dismissively shoots down the idea without really listening to why you want it. But you also don’t want a doc who rubber-stamps everything without discussing risks or costs.

Do they keep up with current evidence?

The standard of care changes over time, so you wouldn’t want to stick with a doctor who gives outdated advice or doesn’t know about new treatments. That said, there’s plenty of room for even the best doctors to disagree on the best course of action.

It can help to look up guidelines or position papers from professional medical societies and see how they compare to your care. For example, the American Heart Association has guidelines for how doctors should monitor bloodwork and prescribe care for preventing and treating cardiovascular disease. If your care seems to be different from what the experts recommend, this is fair game to bring up at your next appointment. Maybe your situation is different, and for good reason; or maybe you’ll leave the office feeling like you need a second opinion.

Can they do the things you need them to do?

The kindest, most up-to-date doctor isn’t much good if they don’t take your insurance, can’t admit you to the hospitals you have access to, or just aren’t that good at the specialty care you want them to provide. Be sure to check your doctor’s affiliations and insurance status, and consider looking up whether your doctor is board certified in their specialty. A doctor doesn’t have to be board certified to be good at what they do, but it’s a good sign.

Another thing that’s harder to get a good sense of is whether they’re good at their job—like if you need a surgery, do they have good outcomes when they perform that surgery? You can look up information on sites like DocInfo.org, but it also really helps here to get referrals from people you know and from other healthcare professionals. The whole idea of trusting your doctor snowballs here: If you trust your PCP, you’ll probably trust that they’re sending you to a good specialist.

 

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