Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Nate hasn’t been happy with his physician for the last year or so. Well, maybe happy isn’t the right word. More like a vague feeling that treatment for his chronic condition is evolving, but his doctor isn’t.
So Nate’s been thinking about whether it might be time to consider moving to another physician. It’s not that his doctor is doing anything wrong, or that they don’t get along. But Nate is feeling like his doctor has a status quo approach to his care. At a recent appointment, when Nate brought up a promising new treatment, his doctor hadn’t heard of it, and he said he intended to leave well enough alone. Nate isn’t sure he wants to do that.
Nate doesn’t want to jump into a potentially rash, or bad, decision. But he’s not sure what's the best route.
Do you need to break up with your doctor?
Ever felt like Nate? Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Have a talk with yourself. Understand your motivation for making a change in physicians. The first question: is your dissatisfaction with your doctor a vague sense that something is missing? That alone is not reason enough to make this decision. Sit down with yourself and think through why it may be time for a change.
2. Get a handle on your emotions. Sure, an emotional connection to your doctor is important. But also ask yourself if what you are expecting from your doctor is realistic. Is there a sound medical reason to consider a new doctor, or are your emotions in overdrive? Feeling unloved? Weigh the importance of your emotional connection with your doctor against your evaluation of his/her skills. Mad about something? Take a time out and let yourself cool off. After all, your doctor is a professional and not your best friend.
3. Stay objective. Focus on the essentials of what you need in your relationship with your doctor—competence, reasonable availability, bedside manner, track record, and awareness of the latest treatments. Identify examples of where you think your doctor is on the mark and where you think he/she could improve. Decide what your priorities are and how you would weigh his/her attitude against your perceptions of competence. It might help to make a list of the pros and the cons of staying with or leaving your doctor.
4. Give yourself a timeline. This isn’t a decision to make without a lot of thinking and soul-searching. Nor is it one to undertake without the same due diligence. So create a timeline in terms of when you will make your decision about whether to leave or to stay as well as a plan for how you will find a new practitioner. Take time to map out the when and the how before you take the plunge. Don’t jump without a net in place.
5. Be patient. Unless you feel that your health is at risk, take your time in coming to your decision. Follow your objective mind but also your gut instincts. Sit with this decision and see how it feels. Where you can, explore some of your concerns with your doctor, for example, whether he/she is actively involved in staying current with new technology, as well as goals for your treatment.
Taking time to get specific about your concerns with your doctor will provide you with more confidence that you are moving in the right direction.