Finding a Good Doctor – A Doctor’s Notes

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.

Rob Lamberts, MD, is a primary care physician practicing somewhere in the southeastern United States. He blogs regularly at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind)where this post first appeared. For some strange reason, he is often stopped by strangers on the street who mistake him for former Atlanta Braves star John Smoltz and ask “Hey, are you John Smoltz?” He is not John Smoltz. He is not a former major league baseball player.  He is a primary care physician.

2 replies »

  1. Effective primary care begins with a trusting patient-doctor relationship, a thorough review of the patient’s medical needs, and the development of both immediate and long-term treatment objectives. At Personal Family Physicians, each patient receives an annual comprehensive evaluation and related primary care services including treatment of acute and chronic conditions and follow up care.

  2. Interesting, I just today helped my step-daughter who is expecting our second grand-child, so a generational flip-flop from your story. She called me at my office (note no longer in practice, am doing online med ed), frantic because her OB just told she was carrying the baby breach and would probably not correct and would need C-section. She is worried about post-op recovery and caring for her almost 2 year old. I mentioned external version and asked whether the doc had brought up that possibility. Apparently not and when I mentioned changing docs she said she would be happy to as this group (all male) were condescending. So, nol being busy at my day job, I reviewed the literature on breach vaginal delivery vs C-section and got her some info on version. Since she has moved into the region I practiced peds in for 20 years, I also looked up OBs that I knew delivered babies at the hospital she wanted to go to, and found 4 women who I had remembered were excellent. Here’s hoping she gets better care, and that thet little one gets turned around…..