6 Steps to Choosing the Right Doctor

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Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. I don’t work in the medical field. I am just a regular person with some experience and some intelligence. Do not attempt to diagnose or treat yourself or anyone else without the proper credentials. Take the following advice as it resonates with you, and comment with your own additions and corrections.
The first thing you need to understand when looking for the right doctor for you is that your doctor is not going to cure you. Whatever may be ailing you, whether it’s a cold or cancer, you may receive treatment, you may get better, you may completely recover, but it won’t be because your doctor “cured” you. With very few exceptions, there is no magic pill that will fix whatever’s wrong with you.
The second thing you need to know is that wellness comes from a healthy lifestyle, not from the proper course of drugs or surgery. If you do not practice a healthy lifestyle, you will eventually need to resort to drugs and surgery for treatment, but you will never be “well.”
The third thing you need to know is that even if you practice a healthy lifestyle, you may still become ill. Environmental and genetic factors will play a role in your health. I know this sounds defeatist, but it doesn’t mean you should just give up and eat whatever you want and sit and watch TV all day. Precisely because of the environmental and genetic factors affecting your health, it’s critical to maintain a healthy lifestyle to give your body the best defense against illness you can.
Do you know someone who never seems to get sick, and do you know another who always seems to be sick? Your immune system can be weak or strong, depending on how well you care for yourself. Eating whole, natural, preferably organic foods, getting optimal sleep, exercising several times per week, taking probiotics and/or eating fermented foods, and managing your stress effectively are all excellent tools for maintaining a strong immune system.
Do you struggle with a healthy lifestyle? Don’t despair. It’s really hard to make those kinds of changes. I know – I was eating fast food just about every day, and it took a life-threatening car accident for me to open my eyes. I hope it doesn’t come to that for you. Just pick one healthy lifestyle change. Eliminate soda, or walk 20 minutes a day, or start taking those probiotics. They say it takes 21 days to make something a habit. Plan to reward yourself if you succeed in your goal for 21 days, and punish yourself if you don’t. Seriously, science has proven that negative consequences are more motivating than positive ones. But I digress…
Even the healthiest of us sometimes need to see a doctor. Or maybe you have a doctor that you’re not super happy with. Step one is to figure out what you are looking for in a doctor. Remember, they are just “practicing medicine” and cannot “cure” you. What they do have is years of education, training, and experience as well as the ability to diagnose illness, prescribe therapies and surgeries, and refer you to specialists.
Here are some of the qualities you may be looking for. Select the ones that resonate with you and prioritize them:
  • Accepts my insurance
  • Offers payment plans
  • Located within X number of miles or on a public transport route
  • Has experience with a certain malady
  • Flexible appointment hours
  • Can be seen within X number of days (i.e. not booked out for weeks on end)
  • Will spend as much time as I need and not rush me through my appointment
  • Has a caring bedside manner
  • Has state of the art medical equipment
  • Will treat me as an individual and not a number
  • Will take charge of my healthcare for me
  • Will let me take charge of my own healthcare
  • Will answer all my questions patiently and explain difficult concepts in detail
  • Will explain all my options to me
  • Will hold me accountable for my lifestyle choices
  • Will not judge me for my lifestyle choices
  • Can prescribe pharmaceuticals
  • Can perform surgery
  • Can recommend or provide natural remedies
  • Can make musculoskeletal adjustments
  • Will take me seriously and take a sincere interest in my health issues

Next step is to figure out what kind of doctor to see. You are probably most familiar with the M.D. which is a medical doctor. Most family doctors fall into this category. They have gone through a minimum number of years of education and training to earn this degree. There is also the D.O. which is a doctor of osteopathic medicine. The D.O. has a different philosophy of medicine from the M.D., seeing illness as being tied to the musculoskeletal system, but is every much a doctor as the M.D. in education and training.

For a particularly difficult to treat ailment or injury, a specialist may be the best option for you. Unless you are already familiar with the type of specialist you need, you may find it easier to get a referral from an M.D. or D.O. However, keep in mind that a given doctor may typically refer his/her patients to specialists who are their friends, located nearby, or without even knowing anything about them. You need to do your own investigating to ensure the specialist will meet your desired criteria in a doctor.
There are other doctors that focus on natural healing modalities. Chiropractors, naturopaths, homeopaths, and others go through a different kind of education and training from M.D.’s and D.O.’s. These may be able to help you with adopting a healthier lifestyle and provide natural remedies, but they typically are unable to diagnose certain ailments, prescribe pharmaceuticals, or perform surgeries.
Depending on your needs, you may choose to see multiple practitioners. For example, if you have had a back injury, you may see a neurosurgery specialist to receive surgical treatment, a physical therapist during recovery, a D.O. for ongoing musculoskeletal adjustments and prescriptions for pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications, and an acupuncturist for traditional Chinese energy therapy.
Next step is to ask around. Interview friends and family to find out what doctors they see and if any of their doctors seem to meet your most desired qualities. I say “seem to meet” because you really won’t know for sure until you meet the doctor for yourself. You can also sometimes find online reviews for doctors. These can be helpful, but take them with a grain of salt. Just like Amazon reviews, some may be fake, some may be overreactions, and some may be made by stupid or ignorant people. Sorry, but it’s true.
Once you’ve made an appointment, the next step is NOT showing up at your appointment. No, the next step is to PREPARE for your appointment, even if it’s an emergency and you’re sitting in the emergency room waiting to be seen. Whether you have 5 minutes or 5 days, write down all your symptoms, even if they are minor or you think they are unrelated. Also be prepared to provide detailed medical history including medications (over the counter, pharmaceutical, vitamins, natural remedies, etc.) and family history. Next, write down all your questions, leaving room on the paper for answers and more questions. It’s good to do some research online as long as you understand that YOU do not have the education, training, and experience to diagnose yourself. But doing some research will help you to formulate your questions for the doctor. Also, mentally prepare yourself. Doctor visits are stressful, no matter how minor the reason. Do what you need to relax and/or distract yourself. This could include deep breathing exercises, prayer, chamomile tea, Facebook, or crossword puzzles. Maybe even all of the above.
Next step is the actual appointment. Allow the doctor to take the lead. He/she will typically have questions for you and perform an exam. This is your opportunity to describe all your symptoms. You may be able to ask your questions along the way, too. If not, do not let the doctor leave the exam room before you’ve had a chance to ask all your questions. By the end of the appointment, the doctor may provide treatment, order tests, prescribe treatments, and/or recommend a specialist or other action on your part. Make sure you understand everything the doctor says. If you don’t understand something, press the doctor for additional information. And write everything down. You will forget things, and you can refer back to your notes later if you need to remember something. If you don’t agree with something the doctor says, don’t feel obligated to follow the doctor’s instructions. Get a second opinion. Get a third. It’s your body, your health, your decision. But also, your consequences.
Final step: evaluation. Go back to your prioritized list of qualities you want in your doctor. How did your doctor do? I’m guessing your doctor was less than perfect. That’s okay! No doctor is going to fit your criteria perfectly, but did he/she fit your needs for the most part? If there were areas lacking, are they an acceptable compromise? I know someone who travels out of state after having moved to see his doctor because the rapport they have is so good, it’s worth the time and expense to continue seeing him. Maybe you have a doctor with a terrible bedside manner, but they’re a genius when it comes to figuring out what’s wrong with you. Whatever you decide, it’s important for you to have a comfort level and high level of trust with your doctor, to be able to discuss the most delicate issues, and if not, it’s time to start the process over.
Another bit of advice: I hope you’ve learned by now that antibiotics are overprescribed, and as a result, we could soon be facing an antibiotic apocalypse. Antibiotics are (or used to be) effective against all kinds of bacteria. The common cold is caused by a virus. If you have a sore throat and stuffy nose, do not go to the doctor expecting a prescription for antibiotics. If your doctor gives you a prescription for antibiotics for a cold, do not fill it, and find another doctor. In fact, just stay home, get plenty of rest and fluids, and your immune system will fight off the cold within a few days. Because antibiotics have been overprescribed for so long (for humans and livestock), we are fighting bacteria that are no longer responding to any antibiotics.
I will end with a personal experience. Although I opt mainly for a healthy lifestyle and natural remedies for basic ailments, several years ago I developed (sorry, guys) severe cramping. It was going on for almost two years and was getting worse by the month. It was so severe, it was debilitating. I decided since I was 10 years overdue for a “well woman” exam, I made an appointment with a P.A. (physician’s assistant) that was nearby, i.e. I had no criteria other than location for choosing this doctor.
The only preparation I did for the appointment was to determine that I would tell her about the cramping and expect her make an attempt to diagnose the problem. Once diagnosed, I would decide how I wanted to proceed vis-à-vis treatment.
I went to the appointment, and she was just going to perform the exam without asking me any questions. I told her that before we started she should know that I was experiencing these debilitating cramps. She gave a blank look and proceeded with the exam. Upon completing the exam, she told me I’d have my pap results in a few days and was ready to send me on my way. I asked, what about my cramps? Another blank stare. I went on to explain that writhing on the floor screaming is not normal. Something is wrong, and I need to have it diagnosed. She asked, “Do you want an ultrasound?”
As much as I value being in charge of my own health, I found this doctor’s inability to know what might be wrong and how to diagnose the problem a sign of incompetence. Or maybe when I made the appointment and described my issue to the receptionist, a P.A. should not have been offered as an option. Really, I should have just done a better job of finding the right doctor for me.
All’s well that ends well. I did make an appointment for an ultrasound, but I missed it due to an unrelated emergency. Not long after that, I was talking to my dad about my symptoms (Hi, Dad! I know you’re reading this!). He told me something I had never learned – that my mom, now passed, had suffered the same symptoms in her 20’s due to endometriosis. With a potential diagnosis for me, I hit the internet to learn all I could. I found out that conventional medical treatment for endometriosis is limited to surgery and hormone replacement therapy, neither of which I was willing to subject myself to. I opted to try a regimen of daily doses of chaste tree berry powder for natural hormone regulation. After three months, the symptoms started to subside. After six months, they were gone. I continue to take the powder daily, and I’ve been symptom-free for five years. No doctor required.
To be clear, I’m not against doctors. I have tremendous respect for what they know and do. Like any other profession, many are good, some are exceptional, and some should find another profession. It’s your job to find the right one(s) for you, and I hope I’ve given you some tools to help.

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