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Are you and your doctor a good fit? If you feel that way, it’s a good sign. Your health is so central to who you are, so important to how well you function and enjoy life, your doctor can be one of your most valued life partners.
A doctor should explain your condition clearly enough that you can make important treatment choices and self-manage your own care. But while some patients want to know all the risks they face, others prefer to know less and let their doctors make the toughest choices for them.
Some doctors listen only long enough to order the first medical test or write a prescription. Decide how important is is for you to have your doctor listen to more of your story.
If you have a strong preference for a male or female doctor, honor that need.
Some people prefer an older doctor with decades of experience. Others are more comfortable with a younger doc who’s up on all the latest technologies and treatments.
Is your doctor on your health insurance plan? If not, you’ll have to pay more.
Skills are especially important in a specialist. If you have a particular condition, ask how many of the doctor’s patients have this condition. A higher number suggests a higher level of skill and experience. You also can call the hospital with which a doctor is affiliated or contact your state’s medical licensing board to ask if any complaints have been lodged against him or her.
From the doctors' perspective, these are some of the traits they may value in a patient:
Ability to communicate. Does your doctor welcome passive patients or prefer ones who explain their symptoms well, ask questions, and convey their goals for the office visit? Your own goal for a given visit may be to obtain a diagnosis, determine a treatment, or obtain more information.
Interest in partnering. Some doctors like playing almost a parental role. Others prefer their patients to act as partners—to learn about their conditions and play an active role in treatment decisions and self-care.
Ability to “renegotiate.” At the end of an office visit, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan. You can think of that plan as a verbal contract. If you’re not going to keep up your end of the bargain, go back and renegotiate. This means mentioning your concerns about a medication’s high cost or its side effects, for example.
Preparation for office visits. Many doctors like a prepared patient. Organize your thoughts and write them down. Don't just present a list of symptoms.
It may be best to just ask, "What kind of patient do you work best with?" It’s all about ensuring you and your doctor are a good fit—because in the end, good health care depends on teamwork.