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Did You Choose the Right Doctor? Examining These Interpersonal Traits Will Help You Make Your Own Diagnosis

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In the classic film The Wizard of Oz, we all remember Glinda’s iconic question, right? “Are you a good witch, or a bad witch?” But in the story, a good witch and a bad witch were easy to tell apart. In the character’s own words, “Only bad witches are ugly.” But real life isn’t quite so simple. For example, how do you tell a good doctor from a bad one? And even more confusing…how do you tell a good doctor from the best one for you and your needs?

Here at AgingOptions we like to make sure we bring our readers any resources to keep us all in tiptop health. In this recent article from the health desk at US News, Paul Wynn gives us some much-needed guidance on how to separate the “good witches” from the “bad witches” in the world of physicians, and to find the best fit for your lifestyle so that you can be the healthiest you can be.

Finding the Right Match

Wynn poses a thought-provoking question to start his article: “Your doctor might have an incredible medical pedigree and be admired by fellow physicians, but is your doctor a good match for you and your health needs?” He adds, “Finding a doctor is an important step, but deciding whether to stick with your doctor is another key decision.”

There are many considerations to finding a doctor who is a good fit, but a strong sense of personal connection is a real priority for many patients. Dr. Anthony Orsini, a doctor-patient communications expert, says, “Patients need to feel seen and heard, and they need to know they’re more than just a number.” I think we can all agree with that!

Are you wondering whether your doctor is right for you? Wynn gives us the following essential traits to look out for.

Good Doctors Practice Empathetic Communications

Everyone knows that communication is key in any relationship. But have you thought about how that relates to your experience with your doctor?

Unfortunately, if there’s one thing doctors are famous for, it’s not communication. Wynn writes that according to a recent online survey, “only 39 percent of patients reported that their doctors are effective communicators.” That’s a startlingly low number!

Orsini paints a stark picture of the consequences of bad communication among physicians. “The nuances of communication – including verbal and nonverbal cues, tone and cadence – are equally important,” he says. “Doctors who don’t invest in adopting effective communication skills may be putting patient loyalty at risk.”

Are you wondering if your doctor is a good communicator? Wynn says to look for signs of what’s called active listening. Is your doctor focused on you when you’re talking? Does he or she ask follow-up questions? Both behaviors show evidence of greater empathy.

Good Doctors Foster Trust

Just like no two people are the same, there are no two identical doctors. But building trust with your doctor requires the same basic traits as building trust with anyone else, “such as honesty, kindness, respect and intelligence,” Wynn says.

Building trust isn’t just a perk; it can actually keep patients healthier. “A trusting relationship will also help patients stay healthier because they’re listening to prevention strategies like screening tests and healthy lifestyle habits,” Wynn explains. “And in some cases, your doctor will refer you to a specialist for specific health issues or chronic diseases that require special expertise.”

If you feel hesitant about trusting your doctor, Orsini’s advice is to listen to your gut. “There is no reason to stay with a doctor if you don’t trust them,” he says. “Mistrust will lead to patients second guessing their doctor’s advice, and that’s counterproductive to maintaining good health.”

Good Doctors Show Compassion

In an overcrowded and overburdened healthcare environment, many patients say they feel dismissed or diminished. According to the same recent online survey as above, “71 percent of patient participants said they experienced a lack of compassion when interacting with doctors and nurses. This could range from not thoroughly answering questions to not sympathizing with patients’ challenging health issues or even personal situations at home,” Wynn says.

Most doctors enter the medical field out of a sense of compassion, so their hearts are often in the right place. But Orsini explains, “As doctors, we are taught from the beginning to set our emotions aside, but the results of this survey make it very clear that patients have a true desire to connect with their physicians emotionally and feel their compassion.”

Good Doctors Listen Carefully

It’s a terrible experience to feel rushed or ignored during your doctor’s visit, but it’s a sadly common tale. Wynn says, “In one study that observed 60 patient visits at a primary care office, patients were interrupted within 12 seconds of the doctor entering the room, and one fourth of the time, patients were interrupted before they finished talking.” This trait leads patients to feel like they can’t explain their symptoms in full, or trust that their words are being heard and understood. And that is a huge barrier to trust.

Ultimately, according to Wynn, listening is a two-way street. “An effective medical appointment is one where there is open dialogue between patients and their doctor,” he says. You should feel able to speak and be heard, and you should trust your doctor enough to listen to what they have to say, as well.

“Watch out for situations when the doctor is doing most of the talking and not doing enough active listening, and when they don’t directly answer questions,” Wynn says.

Good Docs Engage Directly, with a Personal Touch

Technology is the pinnacle of a double-edged sword, and this crystal clear in the medical field as much as anywhere else. “While the effect of social media on society’s ability to communicate is visible in day-to-day interactions, it’s critical to hold your doctor to a higher standard of personal communication,” Wynn says. “Even though doctors are increasingly using iPads and laptops during visits to capture your health information, that doesn’t mean their interpersonal skills can be overlooked.”

Orsini urges patients to look for doctors who maintain personal connection—even something as simple as making eye contact—and don’t just rely on technology to do everything for them. “Based on my experience, and what I share with other doctors, patients need undivided attention during an exam, and the note taking can be done after the conversation or be done by an assistant.”

 He adds, “I don’t believe that patients should just accept the fact that the doctor must capture electronic health records during appointments because there are nuances of nonverbal communications that are essential for a doctor to make a correct diagnosis.”

Ultimately, You Need to Trust Your Instincts

Picking out a “good witch” from a “bad witch” may not be as easy, but your instincts will tell you a lot if you let them. From the moment you set foot in the doctor’s office, you should listen to what your gut is telling you. Are the receptionists kind and considerate? Do the nurses and doctors treat you with the traits outlined above? If anything feels off, Wynn gives you permission to notice, and to make a change if needed.

“From start to finish at your appointment, trust your gut instinct,” Wynn urges. “If something rubs you the wrong way or feels off, it’s probably not the best fit for you and your health needs, and it may be time to look for a new doctor.”

When you do pick a doctor, we have a recommendation. Here at AgingOptions, we feel strongly that a geriatrician is the right choice for most seniors. These board-certified experts understand the needs of aging patients and are trained in actually listening, not just prescribing. Contact us at AgingOptions and we can refer you to some fine geriatricians near you. It could be the most important health care choice a retiree can make.

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(originally reported at

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