When to Break Up with Your Family Doctor

Featured Article, Power to the Patient
on July 29, 2013
Signs it's time to break up with your family doctor.

Whatever her title—primary care provider, internist, or family doctor—the physician who oversees your healthcare, including referrals to specialists, is crucial to your well-being.

RELATED: Do You Need to Break Up with Your OBGYN?

“Doctors have bad days like everyone else,” says Dr. Dana Simpler, a primary care practitioner at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. “But if you are consistently not getting the kind of treatment you need, look elsewhere.” Here are reasons to make a change.

Factory approach. “If you feel like you’re part of an assembly line, and your doctor is not listening to you and adjusting treatments to your needs, it’s time to change,” says Simpler.

One-way communication. ”You don’t have to see eye-to-eye on everything,” says Dr. Anita B. Varkey, clinical associate professor of medicine and medical director of the General Medicine Clinic, Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill. “If you can communicate openly, feel heard and your physician takes your opinion into account, that is a normal working relationship.” At the same time, you do want a doctor who says if one option is clearly best. “That’s why we went to school,” says Varkey.

RELATED: How to Find a New Family Doctor 

You also want a doctor who doesn’t confuse you with medical jargon, says Varkey: “You need to know why you need a test, how it will change your treatment, what the next step is, why you need to take a medication, and what the goals are of your treatment.”

Another key: “It’s important to have a doctor who offers written communication,” says Simpler. “He can’t expect the patient to remember all he’s said.”

Pills for every ill. Worry about a doctor who is always pushing pills, says Simpler. You want a doctor who thinks about lifestyle changes first. “And when you have new complaints, does the doctor review your medications to make sure a drug isn’t causing it?”

Philosophical misalignment. “I have patients who prefer not to take medications unless absolutely necessary so I work with that,” says Varkey. But she’s also upfront when she knows they absolutely need to take something. “You want a doctor who takes your preferences, life circumstances, and finances into account,” she says. But also one who says what she thinks is best.

Time issues. Maybe you hate to wait, but waiting may mean that your doctor takes extra care with each patient, says Simpler: “If the doctor is completely inconsiderate and consistently keeps you waiting two hours, that gets ridiculous.”             

Over judgmental. “It’s not a good thing to leave the doctor feeling disrespected, ashamed or embarrassed about what you reveal,” says Varkey.  “That’s not acceptable.” But Varkey notes that it’s rare for a patient to reveal something a doctor hasn’t heard before unless she’s still green.

Poor hygiene. Simpler tells of a patient whose doctor had her stay in street clothes and shoes during an invasive procedure. “If an office is dirty or doesn’t follow hygienic procedures, that’s another reason to leave,” says Simpler.

Clumsy coordination. “If your PCP doesn’t keep track of reports or referrals to specialists, or coordinate care in a timely way, that’s a problem,” says Varkey.  How quickly he acts depends on the situation’s severity. “If you have active coronary disease and need to see a cardiologist, for example, that should be arranged within a couple of days.”