Tracy Lee Karner

Choosing a doctor: window shop for one

Tracy Lee Karner
This is part 1 of a 3-part blog-post on how to shop for a doctor.
I am not a doctor. I’m not a professional advice-giver, or anyone who has any business telling you what to do or how to live your life. This is only my own opinion. The reason my opinion might mean something to you is because I’ve been successful at finding doctors I love.
And I don’t love all doctors. I have exceedingly high and specific standards for my doctors. When I’m sitting there emotionally and possibly physically naked, if anything about the situation makes me the teeny-weeniest bit uncomfortable, I take it personally. And if I’m not comfortable with my doctor, I end the relationship.
Other people think some of the doctors I don’t particularly like are good doctors, but that’s irrelevant. All that matters about my doctor is whether I love my doctor.
No matter where I’ve lived (5 entirely different regions of the U.S. in the past 20 years), I’ve managed to find a primary care provider I love.
So maybe I’m doing something right.  I’ll tell you how I shop for a doctor and what I’m thinking while I’m shopping, and you decide whether my system is a good one or I’m just lucky.
When I start window-shopping for a doctor, I keep an open mind. There’s only one requirement for getting me to stop for a second glance-the person has to be the right age. 
I’m shopping for a doctor 35-55 years old. I don’t want a doctor fresh out of medical school. I want a doctor with experience.  And someone who is not going to retire in three years because then I’ll have to find another doctor.
I don’t care whether it’s a man or woman. I’ve had good and not so good experiences with both. I’m fine with having a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant as my primary care giver. At this point, keeping an open mind, I am not seeking a certain kind of education. It’s all about the way we click (or don’t click) together, because we’re going to manage my health together, and I need us to click.
I start by looking at the catalogue my managed care provider gave me, or I go online and look at doctor’s profiles for clinics and practices in my area. I’m looking for an MD or DO or PA or NP, between 38 and 55 (give or take a few years) who specializes in family practice or primary health care or general practice or internal medicine.
Now it’s only about intuition. My gut feeling. I browse. I look at their pictures. I read their resume and bio. I’m judgmental. If she’s got a look in her eye like that mean second-grade teacher I had, like she enjoys spanking kids–move on. This is not a rational process. It’s not meant to be. Falling in like is never rational.
I imagine myself being friends with this person, telling them my secrets. If I get a creepy feeling, I don’t second-guess myself. All I’m doing is window-shopping. No one even knows I’ve moved on. No feelings hurt.
If I have a generally okay feeling about this person, I call the office and ask the receptionist two questions.

  1. Are they taking new patients? If yes. I ask the second. 
  2. What kind of doctor is this? 

They’ll say something like, MD, DO, PA.
I push. “Yes, but what kind of doctor (or nurse practitioner) is she? Is she outgoing and friendly? Does she like to know her patients’s whole lives (not just medical history, but interests, work, family)? Is there an age or gender that he’s especially interested in? Does he have any hobbies?”
If the person doesn’t know anything, I make a note that maybe I’m not interested in this practice (the receptionist doesn’t know a lot about the doctor–this could be a warning sign that the doctor doesn’t make any effort to connect with people), but I still pursue it. I ask one more question.

  • Would you have the doctor’s nurse call me? Please tell her I’m considering becoming a new patient and I’d like to ask a few questions.

If the nurse doesn’t call back, then this is not the doc for me. If the nurse calls back, I ask two questions.

  • So, what’s it like working for this doctor? Do you like him (her)?

I know it’s not polite. It puts people on the spot. It might be embarrassing. I don’t care. Normally, I’m not a pushy person at all. But this is serious business, my health, and I’ve learned to take care of myself in this area. The responses to these questions reveal everything I want to know.
If there is a pregnant pause, I know this won’t be a good choice for me. I want a doctor who has an extraordinarily good relationship with the staff. I want to hear gushy things like, “everybody loves him…he cares so much about people…everybody adores working with her…she really takes time to get to know her patients. This is the best job I’ve ever had; the best doctor I’ve ever worked for.”
Then, if I’ve found a doctor whose staff adores her/him, I make an appointment to get to know the doctor. I call the receptionist and say, “I’d like to make an appointment for an initial consultation as a new patient with doctor so-and-so.”
We’re not going to do anything but talk at that appointment. It’s like going out to dinner with someone on a first date.
But that’s part 2 in shopping for a doctor. The first date with your prospective doctor is coming next week.
Any questions? Any fears or concerns? Could you be so brazen? 

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