When to Say Goodbye—to Your Health Care Provider

The provider-patient relationship is delicate and fraught with opportunity for misunderstanding. On one hand, you have a busy professional in a somewhat risky, stressful profession who is pressed for time and is trained to speak a foreign language—medical mumbo-jumbo.

On the other, you have ordinary people who may or may not be good at communication and who are paying a lot of money to entrust to this person their most precious possession—their health.

On one hand, it takes time to become familiar with someone’s personality and communication style. And it takes time to develop trust, which is a critical ingredient in any relationship that will last a long time, including this one.

But on the other hand, the stakes are too high to overlook for very long a bad attitude, questionable treatments, or ongoing discomfort on your part.

So how do you know when to finally pull the plug and find another health care provider? And how do you go about that process, anyway?  We’ll answer the first question in this post and the second in a later post.

The top reasons to look for another health care provider:

  • Your health care provider interrupts or doesn’t listen. Your questions are prepared and succinct. You aren’t rambling on or complaining about your job, yet your provider is glancing at the clock, seems preoccupied, or keeps checking his or her Blackberry. Or—you’ve barely begun to ask your questions, and your health care provider interrupts. (Some studies indicate that providers interrupt their patients within 23 seconds after a conversation begins.)
  • Your health care provider is arrogant, argumentative, or unapproachable. Your health care provider must be able to listen to challenging questions and to answer them thoughtfully and without defensiveness. A health care provider who doesn’t welcome questions from his patients, who blames the patient, or who becomes hostile, defensive, or argumentative either has a personal problem or doesn’t understand the first thing about a professional relationship. If you like being bullied, stick around; otherwise, head for the hills.
  • You can’t get in for an appointment. You may have to schedule a routine physical several weeks in advance, but you want to be able to see your health care provider when you’re ill. At that point, even a few days are too long. If you can’t see your health care provider when you need to, that’s a problem.
  • Your health care provider’s staff is unfriendly, unhelpful, or incompetent. Unreturned calls, lost paperwork, billing errors, curt or snippy responses to questions, and long stretches on hold—these annoyances seriously impede your relationship with your health care provider. You owe it to your provider to let him or her know about your experience with the staff, but if nothing changes over time, you’ll have to assess whether the relationship is worth the aggravation.
  • And finally—your health care provider is unwilling or uncomfortable addressing your sexual health. Sexuality is a big part of your identity and a major contributor to your quality of life. Yet, as we’ve discussed before (and will again), most providers don’t bring it up. And they should. Dr. Sheryl Kingsberg, sex therapist and MiddlesexMD advisor, takes no prisoners on the issue. (More on this later, too.) “If your health care provider is that uncomfortable or indifferent to your quality of life, then I’d consider getting a new provider.”

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