If you have been diagnosed with some illness — whether it be Covid-19 or cancer, you probably are buried under all sorts of advice about how to pick the right doctor for your treatment. Having been through the cancer journey this year, let me tell you what I have learned from my perspective about how to pick the wrong doctor.
There are lots of articles that you can read online about finding the right doctor, working with them to decide on a treatment plan, blah blah blah. But I think you need to come at this decision the other way — not to be negative, but it is a lot easier to find someone when you can recognize the warning signs of a doctor who is obviously not going to get the job: the job of being your partner in your treatment and cure.
It is a job interview of sorts, with you holding all the cards. So think about the people who you have interviewed for jobs in the past, and why you have rejected them. Was there a personality mismatch? Did the candidate not have the right mix of skills or experience?
But “interviewing” your doctor is easier than this. You already have a bunch of questions about your diagnosis and treatment. Here is how you figure out if your doctor should continue in that role, or get cut from your team.
First, is s/he actually listening to you and answering your questions? Many years ago when I was first diagnosed with Meniere’s disease I was talking to my first ear / nose / throat doctor to learn more about my disease and treatment. After a few minutes, I realized that I had picked the wrong doctor. When I was talking to him, he had his hand on the exam room doorknob the entire time. Clearly, he had other places to go, other patients to see. He was a busy Man of Science. You will have lots of questions. You want someone who will be patient and give you answers and explore the various possibilities of your treatment.
When was the last time s/he treated a patient with similar disease/cure patterns? There should be a quick, ready answer, and it should be sometime in the very recent past. You want someone who is familiar with your situation. Someone who has used the robotic equipment that is recommended (or whatever gear they are contemplating using on you). One time I had shoulder surgery after falling off my bicycle. My surgeon told me that he had to repair five different problems once he opened me up and told me that this pattern was unique. Did I get a prize or make the honor roll? I was glad he fixed me up, but I didn’t know going in to the surgery that I had so much wrong. I might have looked around for a surgeon who had a different background and who specialized in this particular shoulder injury pattern.
Should you pick an older or younger doctor? This isn’t a simple answer to this question. The argument goes you want a doctor with loads of experience, who is a recognized expert, who has seen plenty of patients and done plenty of treatments. And in past situations, I have generally gone this route. But with my bout of prostate cancer this past summer, I went with a millennial.
Here is why: there are two flaws in the above argument. The first is that the older doctors got their education about 30 years ago, when the medical/industrial complex was not as complex. Treatment options were fewer, specialists were rarer, and the internet was just getting going. All of those things have changed the course of medicine and how folks are treated today.
And flaw #2: every body is different. We aren’t robots: our innards are configured slightly (or majorly) differently. Our parts don’t fit together precisely, and our mileage will vary, in some cases rather markedly. Consider just one variable: our overall body weight.
These two flaws are why I went to find those doctors who are millennial young turks of my kids’ generation (in their 30s). They got the most recent training possible, at a time when robots and internet connectivity are taken for granted, not some fancy new thing. In many cases, these docs are doing cutting-edge research, literally. And because prostate cancer is so common today, they have access to many patients, so even those with relatively newly minted degrees / residencies have seen plenty of them.
So this post is my way of saying don’t be so absolute in picking the older docs. Look carefully at the doc’s webpage, see what research they have written, ask them how many procedures they have done in the past week or month, and take time to understand whether they are up to date and participating in the latest NIH and other clinical trials.
Finally, does your potential doctor exhibit leadership skills? Is s/he publishing original research in the particular medical field? Do other colleagues look up to him/her? What does the nursing staff have to say? They often know the inside story.