Last winter, I began my search for a new Rheumatologist. I opened my laptop and in my search engine, I typed, “find the right doctor partner.” My first result? “Doctor Dating: Professional dating at its best | EliteSingles”
I thought to myself, not exactly, but after a quick laugh, I had the realization that I should be treating the process of finding a new doctor with the same care someone would give to finding a life partner.
You’re entering into a hopefully long-term relationship with a person, a very intimate experience. You’ll be sharing information with this person that you might not share with anyone else. They’ll be physically touching you at times. You’ll be working together to reach health goals. You need to be able to trust them.
When I was first diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I waited months to see my first Rheumatologist, the only one in the state who would see a minor. After more than eight years, and with my disease under control, I switched to a doctor in the city where I worked. After moving to Tennessee a few years later, I switched to another doctor down the road from our apartment.
A year ago, I would have told you that all of these doctors were fine, good, great even. They’d take a look at me, listen to me for a few minutes, refill my prescriptions, sometimes provide me with printouts on medication or exercise, and send me on my way.
It was last year, in the midst of my flare, that I could see the lack of care I was being given and knew that I needed to find a real partner, not just a medical professional. I’m so grateful that I spent the time and energy to find someone with whom I could build a relationship, like the doctor that I have today.
Search beyond your city or town
When I was younger, I would travel two hours to get to my doctor. It was so exhausting that whenever I could, I switched to a doctor less than an hour from my house, and then eventually found a doctor just a few minutes away. At first, I was appreciative and relieved, but over time, I realized that I was settling and that if I wanted the quality care that I felt I deserved, I needed to research other doctors within a larger radius.
When looking for a new doctor, I knew right away that there was a quality medical facility two hours from my home and that is where I began my search. I also looked into other facilities like the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic for care but luckily found the right fit closer to home.
Do your research
It can be tempting to take the first doctor who will see you when you’re in pain and the waitlist is four months long, but if you have the capacity, find the right doctor and get on their waitlist.
I chose my doctor based on her areas of interest in the field as well as her contributions to medical journals. It required a little time and effort to read and research, but this was an important step to finding out if she could provide the kind of care that I was looking for now.
Look for someone who will listen
We all have different priorities in the qualities we are looking for in a doctor, but we all deserve someone who will listen. During my first appointment with my new Rheumatologist, she spent nearly an entire hour with me in the exam room. This is, by far, the most time a doctor has ever spent with me. She looked me in the eye and diligently took notes. Upon each subsequent visit, she has spent more time with me than any previous doctor, and never rushes me out of the room or off of the phone. When I send her a message in my online chart, I receive a message directly from her within 24 hours, which is a better turnaround than I have on my own email.
Look for someone who asks questions
I often have to be prodded to answer questions about my health. I come prepared with my list of aches and pains, questions that I have, or notes that seem important, but I still have a tendency to avoid what I call “whining.” This is something that I am working to overcome, but I know that I need a doctor who is willing to poke me a bit to get to the answer. This shows care and concern for your treatment, for your future, and not simply a desire to check a box and move on to the next patient. I think we could all use someone who is willing to ask us questions without making us feel ashamed or self-conscious.
Filter for a matching communication style
Communication is important in any relationship, and this is no different. In fact, open communication might be more important in this relationship than many, especially when you see one another infrequently. You have to communicate clearly with each other.
I was shocked by how well my current doctor’s communication style fits mine. She explains with clarity and in great detail, elaborating on any elements that I question. She empathizes with me and eases my nerves without being pandering or showing pity. Her notes are thorough, allowing me to double-check anything I forgot to jot down during the appointment. I feel like we truly understand one another.
Make sure you like the staff
This may not be vital, but to me it was important. Often, you’ll be interacting with the staff as you get settled in for your exam, go to the lab for bloodwork, or follow up on questions between appointments. An unhelpful or cranky staff can make appointment days or calls on the phone unpleasant, which might mean skipping out on calling for important questions, setting up new appointments, or other components of your treatment that are critical to your health.
Find someone who treats the whole person
We are more than just our diseases, we are more than a vessel for prescription medication. While medication can greatly support our bodies and minds in our healing journey, I’ve often supplemented this treatment with changes to diet and exercise to support my progress. Finding a doctor that will treat you as an entire person is critical. We are humans with goals and aspirations, with illnesses and ailments. We need doctors who will view us in all of our humanity.
I would encourage you to find someone you trust and respect. Never settle.