When It's Time to Change Doctors
Prioritize your needs when choosing a health care provider.
Editor's Note: While this columnist is no longer writing for dLife.com and we have ceased to update the information contained herein, there is much to be read here that is still applicable to the lives of people with diabetes. If you wish to act on anything you learn here, be sure to consult your doctor first. Please enjoy the column!
July 2007 —Once upon a time, in another city, I was referred to a private physician's office to have a diagnostic test performed. My regular endocrinologist suggested that I visit the practice of one of his colleagues who would be able to perform the nuclear medicine test in-office, saving me a trip to the hospital. Arriving five minutes early for my scheduled appointment, I noticed that the waiting room was already packed. Not a good sign, I thought. My mood went from skeptical to sour as more and more people entered the cramped waiting area.
Invariably, conversations developed among the disgruntled patients. Some, I learned, had been there for over two hours without having heard a word from the clinic staff. Others were worried about their cars parked at three-hour meters or their half-day preschool children. Clearly, we were all going to be there for a long, long time.
As a physician myself, I know that emergencies happen, and doctors get called away from their practices. Sometimes an individual patient will be very ill or require extra attention. Also, due to no-shows and late arrivals, doctors often have to overbook their schedules to avoid having empty exam rooms. I can certainly understand – and always plan for – some amount of waiting at any physician appointment. But I was totally unprepared for the schedule I saw at this particular practice. Looking over the receptionist's shoulder, I knew that the delays weren't due to severe illnesses or emergencies but rather due to their scheduling system. Eight patients were scheduled for every 15-minute slot.
I decided to speak up for my rights as a consumer in this practice and explained that I was a physician myself and was taking time off from my own work to be there, and I would be happy to return when it was less crowded. Ultimately, I ended up switching to another practice.
People with diabetes have many doctors' office visits – regular HbA1c checks, laboratory studies, physicals, eye exams, and other preventive care visits. Throw in women's health screenings and dental care, and I've already got 10-12 clinic appointments per year just for health maintenance. While I am of course interested in the quality of the medical care I'm receiving, I find that the environment of a clinic or practice is very important to my experience. If I don't feel that my rights as an individual, including my time, are respected (as happened with the above practice), I'll look elsewhere.
Regarding the clinic environment, I have a few must-haves on my list when looking for a physician for myself or my family. I make an active effort to find a practice where:
- the staff is courteous
- excessive waiting times are the exception rather than the rule
- phone calls are returned promptly
- there is clear communication about how to reach health care providers after hours
- all patients are treated with respect
Of course, I'd never encourage my medical colleagues to be hasty or dismissive of patients' concerns in order to decrease waiting times for the others. Nor would I advise patients to revolt and leave the practice when unforeseen circumstances necessitate an hour's wait for an appointment. I would, however, always encourage people to give some thought to the factors important to them when choosing a physician and to patronize those clinics and providers where they feel they are accepted as a valued and respected part of their own health care team.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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