COMMENTARY

Choosing Between Two Doctors: One Physician's Experience

Andrew N. Wilner, MD

Disclosures

May 19, 2016

Introduction

Recently, a close family member—let's call her "the patient" —needed a complex elective surgery. Her medical doctor gave us a few surgical referrals. We picked the one at the top of the list.

Luxury of Choice

The ability to choose one's medical doctor is a luxury. Often, an accident or sudden severe symptom such as syncope or chest pain results in emergency transport to the nearest healthcare facility, where one is greeted by the duly assigned healthcare provider of the day. The relationship is forged on the basis of urgency and need, and both patient and doctor accommodate accordingly.

How to Choose?

But sometimes, one has the luxury of choice. Before entering into the sacrosanct patient-physician relationship, a patient can do due diligence regarding the physician's training, experience, standing among his or her peers, as well as online reviews such as Yelp, where doctors are rated "like restaurants." It's not clear how useful all of this research is except to weed out the few bad apples who failed their boards and consistently receive one-star online reviews. But bad reviews tend to be based on long waiting times and snarky staff, not the doctor's performance. A doctor's competence, except in the most flagrant cases, is exceedingly hard to judge. Even a surgeon's track record of successes and failures will be affected by the age, stage of illness, and comorbidities of the patients. A surgeon who only operates on "easy" cases might have a great track record. A more proficient surgeon who takes all comers would have a much worse record. Most doctors are capable, competent, responsible, and get the job done. But even capable, competent, and responsible doctors are not interchangeable.

Doctor #1

Our trusted doctor's referral was sufficient endorsement, but I still did a background check that revealed an impressive website that included education materials, a patient portal, patient approbations, and boasted an affiliation with a nationally respected medical center. We made an appointment.

It was all uphill from there.

A few days later, the doctor's office called requesting that we change the appointment. The secretary explained that she was using new scheduling software and had made a mistake. Could we come the following day instead? We were able to change our busy schedules to accommodate. No harm, no foul.

We were told to register ahead of time on the patient portal. We tried, but the passwords didn't work. This was frustrating and took days to fix.

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