Before I got sick at the age of 33, I didn’t even have a steady primary doctor. Five years later, I now have a large collection of doctors and specialists that I regularly see. Yet, I still struggle with the question of whether I am seeing the right one. Over the years, I have developed a three prong test to help me decide if I should keep the relationship going or just part ways.
1. First and foremost, I have to to know that the doctor is qualified and know what (s)he is doing. For this I look to credential, affiliations, reviews and his/her reputation.
2. Almost equally important as the high credential is how caring the doctor is to your condition. They will be dispensing important medical advice to you and if (s)he doesn’t do it with care, it doesn’t matter how highly ranked they are on U.S. New World & Reports.
3. Lastly, this doctor needs to believe you. (S)he needs to trust you when you describe your symptoms, especially when they cannot look to X-Rays or blood lab results for verification.
The doctors I stay with meets these trifecta of requirements. I realized that if all three are not met, I am not receiving optimal treatment. The qualified doctor will administer sound treatment. The caring doctor will be communicative and go beyond the minimum. And the doctor who believes you won’t dismiss your “invisible” symptoms and will explore less obvious alternatives.
I came up with my requirements the hard way. When I was first diagnosed with lupus, I found a rheumatologist based on (1) distance from home/work and (2) ranking. Indeed, he was ranked as the best rheumatologist in Manhattan, and his office was only 5 minutes away from my office. But he lacked care and ultimately, this resulted in mismanagement of my disease and unchecked gross inflammation of my organs.
So how do you know if the doctor believes you and care? You always have a gut reaction to the appointment sessions, but it’s also good to ask for the doctor’s notes and review what (s)he wrote about the appointment. My former neurologist is very qualified and came highly recommended but she didn’t seem to get my symptoms and also seem skeptical of them. When I read her report later on, she described my statements as “complaints” and that I was “irrational” and “defensive”. She also stated that “I described the pain poorly.” This is not the kind of doctor I want in my corner when I’m fighting lupus!