Does your doctor seem rushed? Indifferent? Humorless? Agitated? What should you do if you’re dissatisfied, aside from dumping the doc?
It can make you feel vulnerable, waiting for your doctor to walk into the room. Perhaps you have a couple of new health concerns you'd like to discuss during your visit, or questions about starting an exercise program.
The doctor's bedside manner can make an enormous difference in your ability to communicate. Does the doctor seem rushed? Indifferent? Humorless? Agitated? What should you do if you're dissatisfied with the visit?
Charlene Cheek said some doctors don't listen or are "too old-school authoritarian - 'Just do what I say and don't question me.'"
Her ideal doctor would be one who "tells us what he thinks is the problem or needs to be done, and then listens to our concerns if we have any and considers what we are saying seriously."
If you're unhappy with the service from your physician and are considering going somewhere else, Richard Rolston, president and chief executive officer of Hospital Sisters Health System in Springfield, Ill., suggests talking to your doctor first.
"First thing to do is speak to the physician and let them know," he said. "If there was something in the practice that's not good for patients - a long wait, rude receptionists - if no one told the physician about those things, he won't be aware to change them."
Travis Dowell, vice president of Memorial Physician Services in Springfield, also urged patients to speak up.
"Whenever a patient gets to the point when they are thinking of leaving a physician, they should use the next time they see the physician to voice those concerns," he said.
That conversation may present an opportunity to find resolution between the doctor and patient.
"However, if you go through that process and you feel like you don't have resolution, you may even want to speak to the onsite administrators to discuss the problem. They can help you at least transfer your records," Dowell said.
In the exam room
Rolston said bedside manner plays an important role in determining how patients respond to their doctors.
Patients can become frustrated when they "feel like they're not being listened to, or the doctor seems rushed, or they don't think the physician is showing compassion," he said. "With the nature of the health-care system today, it's easy for doctors to feel rushed. Sometimes it's just important to slow down," he said.
If something isn't clear, it's OK to seek more information.
"If something doesn't seem right, talk to the doctor," Rolston said. "Don't be afraid to ask the question before the doctor has left the room. The doctor will appreciate that as well, because he wants to be on the same page as the patient.
"At the end of the day, that's what doctors want. The best care they can give to their patients."
End of the relationship
Sometimes, however, things just don't work out.
"There's always going to be times when it's just not a good fit," Rolston said. "Most clinics will do whatever they can to help unhappy patients transfer to another office."
If you decide to transfer to a different practice, you'll have to sign a form authorizing the release of your medical records. "You can get that form from either the clinic you're leaving or the one you're going to," Dowell said.
If you find yourself looking for a new doctor, either because you're leaving the one you've been seeing or you're moving to a new location, there are a few approaches you can take to make the search more productive.
"The first thing every patient should do is sit down with paper and pencil and write down what they want from a physician's practice. What are the office hours, do they prefer male or female, will the doctor travel," Rolston said.
If you work all day, you may want to find out if there are any clinics with evening hours.
Don't hesitate to call the practice. "It's OK to pick up phones and ask those questions," Rolston said.
He also suggests looking for physicians who are board-certified. "I think that's a really good litmus test."
"You just have to do your homework," Rolston said. "When you think about it, there's nothing more important than your health."
Cheek echoed Rolston's advice. She said you should give the same care to selecting your doctor as you would to choosing a contractor or hiring anyone to work for you.
"So you need to think positive, be polite, but do your homework and be assertive, too," she said.
Rolston suggested looking for doctors and clinics that are "patient-centric." While you're in the clinic, ask yourself, "Is the focus on me?"
Both Rolston and Dowell advised asking neighbors and co-workers for suggestions on good physicians. Dowell said some physicians will advertise when they are accepting new patients, or will make that information known on the practice's Web site.