Should you fire your doctor? How to behave like a consumer when it comes to primary health care

As a consumer, it’s routine to comparison-shop. To apply tough-minded evaluations of price, quality and service. To switch brands or suppliers if you’re not happy.

But can this apply to your family doctor?

More and more SuperAgers are beginning to embrace that kind of thinking. The “consumerization” of healthcare is a definite trend, as SuperAgers try to gain more control of their own health care and health care outcomes.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean second-guessed the doctor’s clinical knowledge or expertise. It doesn’t usually apply to surgery or advanced diagnostics. But in primary care, where there are deeper relationships and a wider scope of topics, the performance of family physicians is definitely under greater scrutiny.

What does this mean? How is it applied? In our book, we offered seven key questions to pose in evaluating your family or primary care physician.

  1. What is your doctor’s overall attitude? Is the doctor arrogant or condescending? There may have been a time when you had to accept this; that time has passed.
  2. Are they a good listener? If not, this is a sure sign of ageism: your views don’t matter, the doctor is the pro, let’s just hurry things along.
  3. Is each visit a separate and distinct event or part of a continuum? The old model of aging (which in our book we call DefaultAging) health care was transactional. You got sick, you went to the doctor, you got better, you didn’t see the doctor again until the next time you got sick. Is that how your doctor still treats each visit? Is the doctor responsive to your overall treatment history and patterns? Is your chart readily available on the computer screen? Do they ever act as if not 100% sure of who you are?
  4. How do they respond to your concerns? Is your doctor interested in, or dismissive of, ideas you yourself may be advancing? Are you afraid to bring up something you saw on the internet? Are you nervous about mentioning things like supplements or alternative therapies?
  5. Are they aware of emerging new technologies for diagnostics and better patient service? Telehealth, wireless trackers, electronic health records, technology to make it easier for you to age at home…does it look/sound like your doctor is up to date on the current state of play and where it’s going?
  6. Do they have any ideas about your future potential and your actual plans? This is another aspect of a one-shot transaction versus a continuum of care. Does your doctor think you’re a SuperAger? Do they even know what that is? Have they ever shown any interest in what you might be up to in 5 years or 10 years or more — and what the healthcare implications are for that goal? Or is it always just the immediate issues of today’s visit?
  7. If you were a consumer instead of a patient, how would they stack up? Do the appointments start on time? Is the facility clean and bright, the supporting staff friendly? Taking the whole package together as one, is it an enterprise that understands you and your needs, and that is motivated to deliver outstanding service? Thinking like a consumer, would you rather take your business somewhere else?

Interestingly, more health insurers are measuring patient satisfaction. It’s time more patients started doing it, too.

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