May 16, 2011

We all need to see a physician once in awhile. Whether we just need a check up for work or school, or we need treatment for a chronic or acute condition, most of us are at least marginally satisfied with our primary health care providers but many could use improvement.

What would make the best personal physician?

1. Timeliness of Appointments: When did it become office routine that you can only call your physician’s office between 9 am and 12 noon to schedule an appointment, and you must leave a recorded message for a return call? And why is it that when the doctor’s office finally returns your call, you just miss the call because you were taking a shower, in the laundry room unloading the washer, or just stepped outside for a moment to put something in your car? Why must we wait around for a return call from our doctor’s office just to schedule a doctor’s appointment anyway?

When we need to see our physician our first concern is how long will it take to get an appointment. If we need to see our physicians for a routine matter such as an annual check-up, it may not matter when the appointment is scheduled. But when we have an important concern and time is of the essence (for example, if you found a mole on your back that had suddenly changed drastically in appearance and you feared that you may have melanoma), the last words you want to hear from your doctor’s receptionist is that the first appointment available is two months from now. What other professional feels that it is perfectly acceptable to delay providing service for such long periods of time?

2. Personally provide our medical care and near the time when we arrive for our appointment: Most people find a doctor and then stick with him/her until something sudden happens, such as the doctor retiring from practice or we move out of state. People don’t like to change doctors because they feel that their doctors know their medical conditions best. Maybe that’s why we don’t speak up and complain when it takes such a long time to get an appointment or we have to wait so long to see the doctor after arriving at the scheduled appointment time. When we are finally led into the exam room, we then have to wait again, hoping  for our doctor to magically appear. Then, the most frustrating aspect of a doctor’s appointment happens — someone other than the doctor we have become comfortable with and trust with our lives enters our exam room, announces their name, and then begins to ask questions about our medical history that our doctor knows but this person in front of  us does not. All too often a physician’s assistant is now taking care of us when we arrive for our doctor’s appointment. Physician’s assistants, who have much less medical education and medical training than a typical M.D., may be a satisfactory alternative for the doctor’s office to attend to their patients for routine medical conditions, but are physician’s assistants as capable as M.D.s in recognizing and diagnosing atypical or serious medical conditions? Should we risk and gamble our physical well-being by accepting the hand-off of our medical care from our M.D. to a P.A. (physician’s assistant)?

3. Spend more time with us and make sure we understand our medical conditions,  our treatment options, and your recommended treatment: Just because we  may pay a small (but ever increasing) co-pay and our health insurance usually pays the rest, we are the customers of our health care providers — treat us with respect and value our patronage! We waited so long to see you but now you don’t have enough time to spend with us? Give us a break! Wash your hands, sit down, at least pretend that you are concerned with our medical care, listen to what we say, ask follow-up questions, tell us what our options are, and tell us how you intend to treat our condition, why you chose that plan of care, and what we should expect from the treatment and possible adverse effects from the treatment, from the beginning of treatment to the anticipated conclusion of our treatment. Then, stay seated until you are sure we understand what has been discussed and give us your direct-line telephone number so we can call you if we have any questions after we leave your office. In short, treat us as human beings going through stressful times, even if our medical conditions do not seem that critical to you.

4. Show you care — once in awhile call us to see how we are progressing and if we have any medical concerns: Once we leave your office, you are still our doctor. Out of sight should not be out of mind when it comes to continuing medical care. If doctors wanted to take steps to avoid medical malpractice claims, even if their care was substandard in some respect, it would go a long way to avoid a medical malpractice claim if physicians established and maintained a personal relationship with their patients and showed them that they cared. An apology for a simple and minor mistake may go a long way to minimize the prospect of being on the wrong end of a medical malpractice claim in the future. Many years ago, patients may have placed their health care providers on a pedestal and were not bothered by the perceived arrogance of their physicians, but times have changed — nowadays we expect more but receive less from our health care providers.

If you have received inadequate care from your doctor or another health care provider that has caused serious injury to you, use our website to connect with medical malpractice lawyers in your local area who are waiting to help you with your medical malpractice claim. If you prefer, you may call us toll free at 800-295-3959.