Doctors are human. Just because they went to medical school doesn’t give them magical powers. They have good days, bad days, and make mistakes, just like the rest of us. And yet, some are better than others. And some are downright terrible. Some doctors are actually great doctors but make mistakes. That happens. But if you heard the stories I hear on the phone every day, you would realize also that there are just plain old bad doctors out there.  

I am having a stellar experience right now with one of my doctors, a Washington, DC podiatrist. I recently saw him for a follow up appointment. He took a look at my foot and gave me his opinion – do nothing. And then he asked me what I thought. We talked about it then he took another look at my foot, considering what I’d said. Then he reversed course and suggested two options. He favored option A, and I was willing to follow option A, but had some concerns, which I raised. Then he changed his recommendation to option B and we had a thorough discussion of pros and cons of that decision. I felt like I was a part of my own medical decision making even though I’m not a doctor. A good doctor should feel like a partner.

Given my line of work, I make sure good doctors are taking care of me and my family, and there is no reason everyone else can’t do that too - there are plenty of great doctors in Washington DC and surrounding areas. Here are four things I realized that I do when hiring a doctor that you can do too.

1) I ask for referrals.

I never see a doctor because they take my insurance and can fit me in their schedule. I use my neighborhood Facebook group, ask friends, or check with one of my Washington, DC parents’ groups for recommendations. I find doctors who other people feel good about.

2) I make sure they listen.

Bedside manner isn’t everything, but it counts. As my orthopedist said to me once, “It doesn’t matter how good a surgeon they are if they’re not a good doctor.” A good doctor listens. My podiatrist listens to me. When I say “listen,” I don’t mean he looks at me while I talk. I mean that he responds thoughtfully to what I say and factors what I think into his recommendations. Not all doctors do that. One client of mine suffered from extreme arm pain. She kept telling her doctor she thought this issue was coming from her neck. Her doctor “listened” but didn’t work her up for neck issues, even when the pain was getting worse six months later and she was developing the pain in the other arm. A year later, she has a new doctor who had to do a spinal fusion surgery. This poor lady had discs in her neck pinching nerves which run down her arms and now she has permanent nerve damage. Her first doctor should have listened to what the patient thought instead of sticking to his guns on the cause of her pain.

3) I get second opinions.

Especially if someone recommends long-term medication or surgery. I saw a Virginia orthopedist for annoying shoulder pain once who told me I had a torn labrum in my shoulder. He told me I needed surgery. I asked for a referral to physical therapy to prepare for surgery so my muscles would be in as good a shape as possible. He thought this was silly, told me the surgery was no big deal, and predicted I’d be calling him back to schedule surgery. After a month, the physical therapist told me she’s not supposed to give medical advice but that she didn’t think I had a torn labrum. So I got a second opinion – the doctor told me I MIGHT have a torn labrum, that lots of people have torn labrums, and that he suggested physical therapy. He thought surgery would help the pain, but because my arm would get 6 weeks of immobilized rest + physical therapy, not the surgery itself. I stuck with PT, and avoided surgery. (And have never gone back to the first orthopedist.)

Another doctor told someone I love they were pre-diabetic and prescribed a bunch of medication. I convinced this person to hold off on the medication and get a second opinion. One session with a nutritionist and 15 pounds later, and diabetes is no longer part of the conversation, and a lifetime of medications is no longer part of the conversation.

4) I fearlessly ask questions.

I fully admit this skill was learned as a young medical malpractice attorney. To do this work, I need to thoroughly understand the medical issues, and I hire doctors who are experts in their field to help me and build my cases. The fact that these people are paid by the hour to teach me what I need to know gave me the confidence to admit when I didn’t understand or to ask them to explain in a different way. I HAD to understand the medicine so I could explain it to a jury.  

What I have learned along the way though is that it is a doctor’s JOB to explain things in a way that  patients  understand. (The legal issue here is called informed consent – patients can’t give “consent” to treatment unless they are “informed” of all the relevant information.) This is part of medical school training. So if they don’t explain things so I understand, I keep asking. If they can’t make me understand, I find a new doctor.

I once accompanied my husband to a specialist appointment when his primary care doctor recommended a course of action. I had done my homework and this doctor came recommended as being thoughtful and not too quick to rush to an intervention that I knew had side effects. This doctor … is prickly. He’s smart, but didn’t much appreciate his patient’s wife badgering him with questions. But I stuck with it, and he finally took a deep breath, realized I wasn’t letting this go, and he broke out paper, started drawing pictures, and answered my questions and concerns. At the end of the day, my husband followed this doctor’s recommendations, but we’re only confident he’s getting great care because I stuck to my guns and made this doctor explain himself.

Being a malpractice lawyer gave me the confidence to do this but you can do it too. Any doctor who makes you feel dumb, embarrassed, or needy is a bad doctor. Dump them. And call me. If hitting friends up for doctor suggestions feels like a privacy invasion and you would like me to ask my networks to help you find a good doctor, I would be happy to help. Fill out the form below or call or text me at 202-949-7109.

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