Finding a Good Doctor (And Winning Points)

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My in-laws are in town for my daughter\’s graduation.  When I came home yesterday I was greeted with a big smile and vigorous handshake from my father-in-law.  \”I just want to thank you,\” he said, standing up from his chair, \”for finding us a good doctor.  The one you found for us is wonderful.\”

My wife smiled at me warmly.  I just earned myself big points.  Yay!

Her parents and mine are both in their 80\’s and are overall in remarkably good health.  When I called my father after he had a minor surgery over the summer, my mother told me he had a ladder and was \”on a bee hunt.\”  It\’s a blessing to have them around, especially having them healthy.

My parents have a wonderful primary care physician, which takes a whole lot of pressure off of me to do family doctoring, and puts my mind at ease.  I\’ve only personally contacted him once when my dad had a prolonged time of vague fatigue and body aches.  I try not to use the \”I\’m a doctor, so I am second-guessing you\” card that I\’ve had some patients\’ children pull.  I called his doctor more as a son who wanted a clear story about what was going on than as a physician with thoughts on the situation.

\”I first want to say that I am very grateful my parents have gotten such good care from you,\” I said at the start of the conversation.  \”It\’s nice to not have to wonder if they are getting good care.\”

He was very grateful.  I would be if someone said that to me, and I really meant it.

\”About his current situation,\” I continued, I don\’t want to sound like one of those meddling doctor children who want to second-guess their parent\’s doctor….\”

\”You\’ve already blown that one,\” he interrupted, clearly pulling my chain.  My kind of guy.

I went on to discuss what has been done, adding some things that had occurred to me, specifically of a condition called polymyalgia rheumatica, which I see with some regularity in my office.  He listened to me, and I made sure he knew that he had no extra obligation to listen to my thoughts because I am a doctor.  We finished the conversation with a few more jokes and I hung up with increased confidence as well as gratefulness that my parents had very good medical care.

A few weeks, after my suggested diagnosis came to be true, my dad informed me that his doctor told him, \”your son made the diagnosis; he deserves the credit.\”  I earned major points from my parents on that one, but their doctor clearly got high score in my book.

My wife\’s parents haven\’t been as fortunate with a primary care physician.  Their care has been done a la carte – only when they had problems, and that done with very little explanation.  Being from the generation that doesn\’t question their doctor or demand explanations, the extended family was largely in the dark about their medical care.  This meant that my brother-in-law (an internist) and I ended up having to figure out, suggest, and occasionally meddle to get them the care we thought was appropriate.

A few hospitalizations over the past few years and some mystery medical diagnoses brought the situation to crisis earlier this year.  When we went to visit them in the spring, I was given a charge from the family: find them a good primary care doctor.  Given that I am in Georgia and they are in Oklahoma, this was not the easiest task.  I got some names from a fellow blogger (thanks, John), but the best lead was that of a physician who doesn\’t accept insurance, charging an hourly rate that made me gasp.  It didn\’t seem to be a good match, as my in-laws wouldn\’t be thrilled to pay $200 for a viral illness.

Out of leads, I went to the only other source I could think of: Google.  My search quickly led me to physician rating sites.  I had recently hired a roofer and plumber via Angie\’s list (with good results on the roofer, and bad on the plumber – as I previously mentioned), so this seemed worth trying.  One doctor seemed good, but his Med School graduation year was in the 70\’s, so I doubted he\’d be around long.  Another physician seemed OK until I read some of the reviews by patients who complained of wait times and that they didn\’t feel listened to.

I eventually happened upon a physician with my training (Internal Medicine and Pediatric) who had trained at a good program and who was young, but not too young. There are very few who get through a med/peds training at a tough program who are not motivated and thorough.  I called, and the office treated me very well, even though I didn\’t mention I was a physician (I wanted a true idea of the office\’s user-friendliness).  I got her an appointment, sent my mother-in-law the information, and left it at that.

I was thrilled and relieved when I heard their opinion about their doctor.  He had spent time with them, had listened to what they had to say, and made them feel like they were no longer in limbo.  He would take care of her and figure out what is going on.  That\’s a big deal for me, as I don\’t like having to do detective work and second-guess other doctors.  I don\’t like doing it as a PCP for my own patients, much less as a dutifully son-in-law.  Yes, this doctor too won major points in my book.

The jury is still out, as they have only had one visit, but everything points toward a winner.  I find it interesting being on the other end of the transaction of finding a good doctor.  In this circumstance I was a health care consumer looking for what I needed.  The tools I used were the usual: personal recommendations, Google, physician rating sites, and a call to the office.  I had a slight advantage knowing the quality of the program this physician trained at, but it was still took a fair bit of luck.

To both of these physicians, my parents\’ PCP in New York and my in-laws\’ new PCP in Oklahoma, I give my deepest thanks.  I know how easy it is to cut corners, to get tired, and to be worn out by our system.  I know that it\’s easier to not take the extra time to explain, making sure you are heard.  I know that it\’s more profitable to see extra patients and spend less time with each of them.  Thank you for doing the right thing.

And thanks for all of those points!

*Extra points to the first person to identify the sport for the scoreboard at the top of this post.

15 thoughts on “Finding a Good Doctor (And Winning Points)”

  1. Great post.  I don’t know how to go about finding a PCP and now that I have moved to a new state, I am more at a disadvantage.  I am one of those folks that only go in on an as needed basis, such as an injury.  Not saying that’s a good policy, I realize it is not and I could end up paying for that policy.
    Anyway, as to the scoreboard — Water Polo.  I like getting points 🙂

  2. The answer is that HIPAA does prohibit who we talk about, and if family members are not on the list we can just listen and not share information. Most of the time the people are on the lists (at least they are here in GA).

  3. I have had excellent primary care doctors in both Georgia and Oklahoma. But I understand how difficult it is to find a good doctor when all you have to go on is a list of doctors who accept your insurance or a Google search. My current excellent primary care doctor was a word of mouth recommendation from two trusted sources. If I had Google searched him, I would never have called him because English is not his first language, and he was educated in the Soviet Union.
    What I wasn’t aware of is that children can call a doctor and inquire about their parent’s health care. I though that HIPAA pretty much took that possibility off the table. Does that work two ways? Could a parent call to get clarification of a grown child’s medical status? Not that I really want to on a general basis, but say if one of my kids were in an emergent situation?

  4. Thanks for an awesome post!  Where I live — in suburban Houston – finding an excellent PCP is the proverbial ‘needle in a haystack’ hunt, with the majority practicing ‘a la carte’ care.  
    So reading stories like this restores my faith that good doctors are out there; waiting to be found.

  5. So Dr. Rob, how does one who’s NOT a medical professional find a good PCP?  Mine came highly recommended from my pulmonologist (whom I absolutely LOVE) but in my opinion, is a quack.  I know more about medicine (it seems like it anyway) than he does.  Also, anytime anything more than a zit comes up, he is sending me to a specialist, which makes me think he can’t do primary care, so how do I find a good one?  Incidentally, he wasn’t my pulmonologist’s first choice.  The first choice is no longer accepting new patients because he’s so busy.

  6. Listen to your gut that says this guy is not good. Be willing to look around and ask different people. Find out who the doctors use as their doctor and their family’s doctor. None of these are fool proof (pun intended) but give you the best chance of finding someone decent.

  7. I’ve already asked all of my doctors who they go to and got the same response from all of them:  “I never go to the doctor…”    Honestly.  But thanks anyway for the input.

  8. Red flag. Doctors should go tot he doctor, and those who don’t are willing to give themselves bad care.

  9. Okay but all of my doctors (with the exception of the internist) are fabulous.  I see it as more of a guy thing, because most men don’t go to the doctor (or so I’ve heard).  I’ve been going to my ENT for over 25 years (he’s seriously a genius—I have several major diseases and the ENT found just about every one of them) and he says, “I never get sick, so I don’t go to the doctor.”  Of course, he also told me to use my pulmonologist as my internist since the pulmonologist is board certified in internal medicine too ( the ENT found the pulmonologist for me; that’s the doctor he uses for his personal family), but I’m smarter than that.  He is a pulmonologist and not an internist for a reason.  (I ended up getting the internist referral from the pulmonologist, who told me “well I don’t know this guy personally or anything, but I have a lot of patients who use him and they say they like him”.  Just because you like someone doesn’t make them a good doctor.  I personally like the internist too.  I just don’t think he’s that good of a doctor.)

  10. GlassHospital

    Great tale well told. Very glad to hear the resolution on this. Hope the luck continues…

  11. Danial Garcia

    What you say is interesting and did strike me as quite right. If you are finding a doctor who knows less English then it is unlikely that you would ever find him in Google. That really limits your options if you think about it!

  12. I recently had to leave a very bad and unprofessional doctor. Should I report him for all the bad he has done to me? Or just let it go. I’m a bit scared to say something. What he did was scary and I’m scared nobody will believe me. Please help.

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