How to doctor shop: Why personalities matter, and why it's OK to switch
It's OK to be choosy when it comes to doctors.
"I think when you pick a doctor that you're going to see, you're really picking a partner for you to trust," said Dr. Amy Greminger. "And different people need different things."
You're new in town, or you have to change doctors for some reason. How do you choose? And does it matter?
Greminger and Dr. Sandy Stover both serve as assistant professors in the Department of Family Medicine and Biobehavioral Health at the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota Medical School. Both see patients themselves — Greminger at Essentia Health-Duluth Clinic and Stover until recently at the Sawtooth Mountain Clinic in Grand Marais. Like all medical professionals, they've also been through the experience of choosing doctors for themselves.
Both talked not only about looking for a new doctor in a new place, but also being willing to switch doctors if things aren't working out.
There's one switch Greminger said she'd be hesitant to make.
"I always think it's good to pick a system that you're going to use and stick with it," she said. "I think there can be some confusion when you go across systems."
Other factors such as proximity to your home and what your insurance covers play a part, Greminger said.
Here are some more take-homes from the two doctors:
Ask your friends
"I ask people who they see and why they like them," Greminger said. "I think why they like them is just as important to me as who they see because as a physician I know doctors are really individualized."
For instance, she said, when her husband asked her to recommend a doctor, she didn't recommend her doctor. "The right person for me isn't the right person for him," she said. "I said, 'Well, you probably want somebody that's not super-talkative and is going to be just the facts.' And he was, 'Yes, that is what I want.'"
Some people need a doctor who's a taskmaster, she said. Others need one who is more of a friend, or one who is very goal-focused.
"There are as many different kinds of doctors as there are doctors," Greminger said. "Everybody practices slightly differently. That's the beauty of medicine is that it's not one-size-fits-all."
Watch the videos
Larger health systems often have videos of their providers online and lists of what their preferences are, Stover said. You might find view that information to find a physician with whom you have common interests, or you might just like what a particular doctor has to say.
"It's OK to switch based on personality," Greminger said. "Doctors never, ever mind if somebody feels that somebody else is a better fit for their personality."
"I do think people get the feeling that once they pick their doctor that that's who their doctor is, and that there would be resistance from the clinic to change that," she said. "And that is not true."
On the other hand, anyone can have a bad day, Stover said. It's OK to tell your physician something didn't feel right to you.
"I would watch that response," Greminger added. "It's just like a relationship with anybody else."
Changing over time
"Family practitioners are all trained the same way but often have a special interest in a time of their life for taking care of young families," Stover said. "Later in my career, I took care of a lot more women in their menopausal years."
"When you develop a relationship with someone to the extent you can talk comfortably and freely with that person, that primary provider can also help in picking the specialist that will best meet your needs," Stover said. "And I would take into account personality."
Doctors are trashed and praised on various online sites, but Greminger and Stover aren't fans of that as a way to choose your physician.
"When people write these individualized complaints or glowing recommendations, it's just based on one experience at one point in time," Greminger said. "It's not a very representative, broad, statistical selection."
There's no filter, no good way to check it out, Stover said. "I think we live in an era where all of us should be thoughtful about what we read on the internet."
It does make sense to check online to see if there are formal complaints against your prospective doctor by the licensing board, Greminger said.
Don't hesitate to ask your current physician for advice on transitioning to a provider in your new town, Stover said. They may be able to recommend a clinic there and send ahead your medical records electronically, which will save you money.
"There are many connections that we all have throughout the world, and I have definitely been able to say, 'This group in this city, I already have a relationship; I hear good things about them,'" Stover said.
Your current doctor also can give you advice on how soon you should be seen after you move, Greminger said.
Greminger and Stover both said that for patients with chronic illnesses, they've talked to the new practitioner in the new location.
"There's insights that we have that don't have a place to put a check in a box in the medical record," Stover said.