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Switching Doctors or Searching for a Specialist isn’t a Simple Undertaking

In a previous column, I talked about the ins and outs of looking for a doctor if you don’t have one. Sometimes, though, even if you think you’ve chosen well, things don’t work out. When should you switch to a new doctor?

If, after careful consideration, you think there’ a bad fit, you shouldn’t feel intimidated if you want to look again. The most important elements to consider in evaluating a doctor’s care are the medical results of his or her advice.

Beyond that, keep in mind the same factors that you considered when you were looking:

-Does the doctor listen to you without interrupting, and take you complaints seriously?

-Does he or she ask questions and encourage you to ask questions?

-Does he or she speak with you in language you can understand?

-Are appointments tough to get?

-Does the doctor listen?

So pay close attention to the first three questions on the list when you evaluate the care you’re getting.

Communication is especially important if you’re seeing different specialists for a variety of problems. Each doctor should know what the others are doing, in order to avoid dangerous drug interactions, among other difficulties.

If you are in that situation, it is always best to have a gerontologist in charge. A good gerontologist has the deepest knowledge of the big picture, so he or she might be able to reduce the need for specialists. (as for relatives, if you don’t like your loved one’s doctor, but he or she does, it is always best to just accept it. If, however, your relative isn’t mentally competent to make such decisions independently, then you should get involved).

If the time comes to switch doctors, make sure you get copies of all your medical records, including X-ray and diagnostic test results. Your medical records are legally your property and not the doctor’s.

Make sure you know what medications you’re taking, both prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. Don’t forget to take your copies of your insurance cards, too.

The vast majority of doctors are dedicated and compassionate individuals, so serious problems are rare. If you have questions about your care, though, keep in mind the Patient Bill of Rights, developed by the American Hospital Association. It’s not a binding legal document, but a set of guidelines for ethical medical care, intended for both doctors and patients.

According to the AHA, all patients have:

-the right to have considerate and respectful care

-the right to obtain complete and current information

-the right to receive from their physicians enough information to give informed to consent for their treatment

-the right to gain access to all records pertaining to their care

-the right to continuity of care

-the right to recognition of their dignity as a human being

As you evaluate your medical care, please keep in mind one of my favorite sayings, which I use in every talk I give: “Dignity does not atrophy when the body becomes frail”.

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