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Infectious Disease

Should you dump your doctor?

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What to do when your doctor disappoints: Expert advice on seven real-life situations.

Problem: Your Doctor Is Late
An occasional delay is excusable―if, for instance, your ob-gyn had to perform an emergency C-section and the office kept you posted on her expected return. But "any wait over 30 minutes is grounds for, at the least, walking out and rescheduling," says Karen Hickman, a corporate etiquette consultant and a former nurse in Fort Wayne, Ind. That said, consistent promptness isn't common. A 2005 survey by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that only 20 percent of adults were always taken to the exam room within 15 minutes of their appointments. 

"If you choose to wait, ask the receptionist if the doctor is in the office and running late or if he's out of the office," suggests Pamela Gallin, the author of How to Survive Your Doctor's Care. When he does appear, ask if there's anything you can do to minimize the delay next time. If the doctor admits to frequently running behind and being on time is important to you, "it might be time to look for a new doctor," says Vicki Rackner, a surgeon in Mercer Island, Washington.

Problem: You Weren't Called With Test Results
Test results should be delivered in a prompt, clear, respectful way. Anything less merits a complaint to your doctor. If the doctor doesn't apologize, consider looking for one whose office is run more professionally. Some offices have stated policies that, for instance, they'll mail good news and call with bad. If you'd prefer to stick with the doctor, bring a self-addressed, stamped envelope to your appointments and request that your results be mailed to you. Or just accept that you'll have to be vigilant about following up.

Problem: Your Doctor's Record Is Blemished
Disciplinary actions aren't always cause for alarm. A doctor can be disciplined for small offenses, such as refusing to provide a patient with medical records in a timely manner, and large ones, like negligence during surgery. You can look up a doctor's history of disciplinary actions at Castle Connelly's website (castleconnelly.com), which provides links to all 50 state medical boards. 

"To find out the specifics about his record, you may need to contact the board," says Candis Cohen, spokesperson for the Medical Board of California, in Sacramento. If you find that action has been taken, don't be shy about asking the doctor about it. If the record makes you uncomfortable, it's time to leave.
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Problem: Your Doctor Has Trouble With Boundaries
Ask yourself if you trust the doctor and her competence. Let's say your new gynecologist suggests you get Botox. After you recover from the sting of the remark, "if you're impressed with a doctor's ability, try to overlook subtleties in personality," says Dr. Mehmet Oz, the vice chairman of surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, in New York City. If you want to continue under her care, you could let her know that you don't appreciate her comment, or you could just ignore it. If, on the other hand, this is a first visit and the abrasive comment has you reeling because you haven't yet established a trusting relationship, find another capable doctor. "You need to be treated by a doctor you trust and respect," says Rackner.

Problem: Your Doctor Has Poor Diagnostic Skills
This isn’t necessarily grounds for dumping her. Unless, of course, you've heard that the same thing has happened to other patients or the doctor has missed something obvious. If the misdiagnosis wasn't serious, take note of how your doctor reacts after the accurate diagnosis is made, whether it comes after more tests or is another doctor's opinion. "When I make a mistake, I tell the patient and the family," says Oz. But if your doctor makes excuses, she may not be someone you want tending to your health.

Problem: Your Doctor Asks Personal Questions
Doctors shouldn't meddle in your affairs. Many doctors will inquire about your personal life―upcoming vacations, your kids, your job―but they should avoid topics unrelated to your visit. 

"If a doctor makes a comment that you feel is too personal, simply say, 'I'd like to separate my social life from my health care,'" says Dr. Patricia Raymond, a gastroenterologist in Chesapeake, Va. You may have to decide whether the quality of care outweighs his tactlessness.

Problem: Your Doctor Is Narrow-Minded About Alternative Therapies
Some alternative therapies have proven health benefits, so a doctor who discredits them is probably not staying current. "Half of what a doctor learns in medical school is proven incorrect by the time his career has ended," says Oz. If you're happy with your doctor, ask if an alternative therapy will interfere with any conventional treatment you're receiving. If the doctor says it's fine, leave it at that. If you feel the doctor's lack of interest is a sign of a larger failure to stay medically up-to-date, then it may be time to move on.