Finding a good doctor isn’t always easy. And it’s not because the US doesn’t offer great physicians: the US’ training for doctors is considered one of the best in the world, comparable to programs in Denmark, the UK, Japan, and South Korea (although it’s worth noting each of these countries’ experts have different strengths, and operate in vastly different medical systems). Regardless, if the US offers such groundbreaking treatment plans, with the most cutting edge technologies, why can it be so difficult to feel like your needs are being met? Why can you feel so ignored and unheard as a patient? And why does it sometimes feel like all the decisions are being made without your input, like you’re more a spectator than a participator in your own long-term health planning?
Here lies the problem of finding a good doctor. Because it isn’t as simple as what medical school your practitioner attended, or what their specialty is, although both of these can be very important: in this article we’re going to discuss what to look for in a good doctor, bad signs to look out for in your initial meeting, and how to go about finding a good doctor who will be with you for the long haul! Let’s dive in.
What to look for in a good doctor
This may be an obvious one, but it’s worth reiterating since so many people leave it off their list. Sometimes we get so occupied with credentials and prestige that – although experience and research is important – we forget that the person we’re collaborating with on our long-term health needs to take an interest in us, in order to even begin effectively advocating for us. Good signals of empathy in the first meeting include: asking you about yourself, taking a genuine interest in your lifestyle and what brings you to their office, and a sense of real compassion when you share your problems.
This should, of course, be a given for anyone working in the medical profession, but unfortunately LGBTQIA+ folks and BIPOC are prone to experiencing more intolerance and medical gaslighting. If you get a whiff of disrespect from your doctor because of your gender, race, or sexual identity, it is clear that they cannot serve you effectively in their job. Education falls on them, and so until they do the work, you will be better served by medical professionals who respect your inherent worth from the outset.
- Open mindedness
Sometimes patients want to integrate holistic health, Eastern medicine, or spiritual practice (think reiki) into their treatment plans. If that sounds like you, search for a doctor that is open to forming a well-rounded, emotionally, physically, and psychologically caring program that is sure to take care of your well-being from multiple angles during your most stressful moments. This does not have to mean your doctor is a DO or a naturopath, but rather that they acknowledge the value offered by other forms of medicine besides strictly ‘Western’ medicine. Afterall, Eastern medicine has existed for far longer than conventional medicine, and has promising solutions for chronic pain and problems that Western medicine is still straining to solve.
Reading the first meeting
- Do you feel like you “mesh”?
You don’t have to become best buds with your doctor, but asking the fundamental question: “do I like this person?” can go a long way to figuring out if this is the physician you want guiding you through a treatment plan. Chances are, when it comes to majorly tweaking or adjusting your plan, there will be ups and downs along the way, but if you trust your doctor and feel like you understand where they are coming from,it will make these times a lot less stressful (making patient compliance a lot likelier, it stands to reason).
- Do they have a collaborative approach to health?
If they suggested any solutions to your current health concerns, did they follow up with asking about your response to them? Did they seem interested in making sure you understood why they were making the suggestion they were? And if you had any follow up questions, did they treat them with patience and understanding, or did they brush them off and make you feel dramatic?
These are good questions to ask yourself. Ideally, you will have a doctor who treats your relationship as a collaboration in which you – together – create an effective, realistic plan that makes your day to day better. This means they are happy to take the time to answer questions and make sure you are on the same page. If they don’t have time in that moment, they may refer you to a nurse or another provider, or suggest a different time to follow up, but in each scenario, they make sure your concerns are addressed. That is what is important here.
- Do they have a good sense of humor?
This is a nice to have, not a have to have, but if you feel like you get along with your physician, find them easy to talk to, and you can even enjoy a couple of laughs together – then this can certainly be a source of stress relief. In fact, medical problems can be so isolating precisely because they are private and complicated: sometimes laughing with someone who gets it and is on your side is a welcome relief.
The right experience
If you have PCOS, then after seeing your primary care physician, they may refer you to an endocrinologist or an OBGYN. This is because these providers specialize in this particular healthcare concern: it’s what they have dedicated their lives to researching, understanding, and treating. So whether your healthcare is PCOS or something else, a specialist can be immensely helpful, particularly in tackling – and shedding light on – less common symptoms and more extreme cases of a condition. At Allara, because we specialize in treating PCOS from all angles, we pair you not only with registered dietitians but with expert physicians whose specialties include reproductive care, fertility, and obstetrics and gynecology.
- Online reviews
Reviews can be a great way of finding a good doctor! Your insurance provider may offer this feature on their online service, or you can find doctors in your network and google their practices to hear more about what previous patients have to say. Take these with a grain of salt as not all Google reviews are verified, but if multiple patients cite the same issue, then it may be worth considering that it isn’t a one-off, this is a pattern of behavior.
‘Red flags’ to look out for in a first meeting
We put the term red flags in quotes because any of the following instances aren’t necessarily a sure-fire indication that a certain doctor isn’t for you. Rather, this list is a short, friendly reminder to check in (frequently!) with yourself about how you feel during and after meeting with a doctor.
Ideally, you should feel listened to, validated, and heard. Notice we didn’t put ‘relaxed’ or ‘stress-free’ because managing expectations is important: doctors aren’t miracle workers and they can’t magically fix a problem, and in that process, we may hear things we don’t want to hear, things which certainly don’t make us feel less anxious. At the same time, their job is to be honest, make these obstacles manageable, and work alongside you to find the best possible solution given your circumstances. So with that in mind, let’s quickly cover some potential red flags in early meetings with a new doctor:
- They make you feel rushed
Unfortunately, doctors are overworked and overtired, which can sometimes mean they are (understandably) running from one place to the next, trying to put out the latest fire. At the same time, your insurance may not cover more than one meeting in a certain timespan, or you may have felt that the physician in question didn’t care: in which case, the exchange wasn’t fair on you, either. If you can, try to figure out if you left feeling rushed because the doctor didn’t take an interest in you, treated you like another number in the queue, and generally didn’t seem interested or compassionate about your concerns. The two scenarios above are quite different, but the underlying cause is well worth reflecting on before you start a treatment plan with a certain physician.
- They threw out a lot of doctors and diagnoses, without bothering to explain their meaning or answer questions
Unless we work in the healthcare industry, or have loved ones who do, not many people are well-acquainted with long healthcare phrases that take multiple Google searches to understand! Proceed with caution if in an appointment there was a lot of diagnosing and being spoken at, versus being spoken to. The former is a lonely healthcare journey distinguished by feeling overwhelmed and misunderstood, while the latter is a positive learning experience in which you can understand what’s happening in your body better, and what steps are available to make you feel your best self.
How to find a good doctor for you
- Word of mouth referral
We touched on online reviews before, and these can be immensely helpful in getting a high level overview of how a physician prefers to practice, but nothing beats a word of mouth referral: after doing your own due diligence and making sure the provider is in network for you, consider setting up an appointment to see if you jive.
- Explore different expert opinions
Doctors are so unbelievably amazing when it comes to treatments that we never thought could be successful before – and that’s why finding a primary care physician (and in the case of those that suffer from PCOS, a specialist) who understands your health background is incredibly beneficial.
With that being said, medical doctors are not nutritionists, and nutritionists are not naturopaths, and acupuncturists are not therapists. Why do we point this out? Well, all the above: your mental health, your gut microbiome, your daily energy levels, they are all important to crafting an enjoyable life that fits in with your values and goals. And we don’t want to outsource too much to physicians; they cannot always advise on everything, and in those situations, it may be best to loop in other experts in your life. This can be in the form of online therapy, acupuncture or alternative healing sessions, or reputable journals on the impact of the gut on overall health, and so on.
- Heavily consider logistics and make sure they line up
Do you prefer discussing your test results with your doctor in person, or over the phone? Do you hate driving to the doctor’s office, or do you like the delineation between this and the rest of your life? Or do you really not care, and you just want the most simple choice that means you don’t keep postponing necessary doctor’s appointments? Well, welcome to the issue of logistics. Some doctors leverage technology to offer many telehealth services, which mean patients who are disabled, have mental health concerns, or fewer financial resources can access care more easily, while for others, there is no replacement to being given their results on paper, or asking the nurse follow-up questions in person.
So with that we urge you to consider – logistically – what style of communication you prefer, if any, and what method is going to increase the likelihood that you follow up with your physician’s recommendations. Then go and research a doctor that best fits in with those needs. Throughout the process, remember that this is meant to be a collaboration, and at the end of the day, you need to be comfortable with whatever yourself and your doctor decide is the best course of action. If you aren’t completely comfortable, or you feel your questions aren’t being answered, there are other doctors who can better meet your needs. It is just about finding the right fit.
Good luck! Remember, you deserve access to high-quality, compassionate care. No matter what. And if you are interested in Allara’s model of care for treating PCOS, check out how it works here.
Allara Health provides personalized treatment for hormonal, metabolic & gynecological conditions that utilizes a holistic plan that merges nutrition, lifestyle, medication and supplementation, and ongoing, expert support to heal your body.