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How to Find a Good Primary Care Doctor

Getting stuck with a bad doctor is not only frustrating, it is dangerous. Here’s how to avoid this big mistake.

By
Rob Lamberts, MD,
September 30, 2009
Episode #016

Page 1 of 2

This is part two of a series on primary care. In my previous podcast I discussed what primary care is, and why it is important. Assuming I convinced you, I’ll now give advice on how to find a good primary care doctor.

What is Primary Care?

Primary care is different from most other specialties in that it focuses on relationship. The best care is given when the doctor and patient know each other well. In that situation, the doctor knows the patient well enough to make informed decisions about care, and the patient feels comfortable asking questions and knows how to interpret answers. Personally, I don’t care if the guy taking out my appendix has a good bedside manner-- I just want him to be a good surgeon; but I need to be able to communicate well with the person helping me manage my diabetes or keeping my kids healthy.

Find the Best Doctor for You

But as you certainly know, long-term relationships can be hard. Just like dating, it is very important to find the physician who gives you what you are looking for. And just like dating, primary care physicians vary widely in personality and practice style. You want to find the best match between you and your doctor, but that isn’t always easy.

It would be nice if there was find your dream doctor dot com that worked a lot like the matchmaking sites you see advertised all over the place. But despite the fact that there isn’t such a website, you can use some of their principles to narrow down your search. You do this by listing what you are looking for in a doctor. What are the negotiables and non-negotiables?

How to Decide What Kind of Doctor You Want

Here’s a list of some important things to consider: 

  • Do you want a younger doctor with recent training, or an older doctor with experience?

  • Does it matter more if your doctor is on time and efficient, or would you rather have one who takes time to talk but frequently runs late?

  • Do you want a well-established popular doctor with fewer appointments available, or a less-known one with more openings?

  • Some doctors are organized and obsessive, while others are laid-back and intuitive

  • What about a doctor who sets the rules and tells you what to do, versus one who negotiates and explains?

  • And finally, would you rather have a more specialized doctor, like a pediatrician or internal medicine doctor, versus one who can see the whole family?

Different people have different preferences in these areas. The most important thing for some people is that their doctor is always on time; people will often compromise on the other things to ensure they don’t have to spend a long time in the waiting room. To others, the doctor you sit back and chat with is worth the wait. I have seen some colleagues who would routinely run 2-3 hours late, but patients are lining up to see them. There is a reason people were willing to wait.

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