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How To Tell If Your Doctor Is a Good Doctor

Many new patients with autoimmune diseases, particularly young women, are dismissed, not taken seriously, or even gaslit by doctors. During the year I spent searching for a lupus diagnosis, I discovered a terrifying truth about the medical industry: just as there are bad teachers, bad musicians, or bad writers, there are also bad doctors.

I’ve learned that finding good doctors is as important to managing a chronic illness as taking medicine or getting enough sleep.

A negative experience

At twenty-two years old, I sat alone on an exam table, the sanitary paper cover crinkling under me. It was the first time I’d sought out a doctor about the bizarre symptoms that had begun to seriously interfere with my life. “I’m exhausted all the time,” I told the doctor, an older man with glasses and a white coat. “I’m having trouble concentrating, I can’t remember anything—”

“You’re depressed. And also probably homesick,” the doctor interrupted me. He looked bored, as if he had more important patients to see and more interesting problems to solve.

“I don’t think I’m depressed, and I’m not homesick. I haven’t lived at home for many years now,” I tried to explain, but the doctor didn’t seem to listen. I left the clinic that day with a psychiatrist's name written on a piece of paper that the receptionist forcibly pressed into my hand.

It would take several months before I realized I wasn’t alone in how I was treated by the medical professionals I had entrusted with my lupus care.

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Tips for finding a good doctor

Here is how to recognize a good doctor right from the first appointment:

A good doctor listens when you speak.

Like a good friend, a good doctor will listen when you talk. They won’t interrupt you when you speak or immediately change the subject when you finish speaking. They won’t look bored or glance at the clock while you’re discussing your symptoms. Right from the first appointment, you should be able to tell that a doctor is a good listener.

A good doctor doesn’t take you off medications that are working for you just because they didn’t prescribe them.

Too many doctors try to reinvent the wheel when prescribing medication to new patients. Recently, a primary care doctor I visited suggested that I replace the sleep aid I’ve taken for the past decade with melatonin, even though the sleep aid wasn’t causing any issues. Had she asked me before making this recommendation, she would have known that I’d tried melatonin, along with a dozen other over-the-counter sleep aids. She also would have known that insomnia previously caused a life-threatening lupus flare. When a doctor tries to change your medication even though it’s working, it’s a sign they’re not as concerned as they should be with your quality of life.

A good doctor reads your file before diagnosing you or changing your medications.

A good doctor makes sure they know your health history before prescribing medication or ordering tests. A surprising number of doctors I’ve seen haven’t bothered to read my file before suggesting medication that didn’t work for me in the past. I’ve even been told that I don’t actually have lupus, only for the doctor to change their mind after I ask them to read my file. When a doctor doesn’t do their homework on the first visit, I know I can’t trust them to carefully consider all options when I’m in a flare.

A good doctor doesn’t always know the answers, but they’re willing to search for them.

The doctor who diagnosed me with lupus caught what six other doctors, including a rheumatologist, missed. As a primary care doctor, lupus wasn’t her specialty. However, she kept researching possible causes for my symptoms and running tests. She didn’t give up until she discovered what was wrong. The best doctors aren’t the ones who know all the answers right away; they’re the ones who will never stop searching for them, no matter what.

A good doctor takes your concerns seriously.

Chronic illness patients are often stoic about how much pain we’re in. After all, if we cried and fell apart every time we felt sick, most of us would get nothing done. A good doctor doesn’t minimize your concerns, even when you speak about them without becoming emotional.

It’s easy to get discouraged when searching for a diagnosis or for a new doctor. It’s important to never stop believing that you are worthy and deserving of help. Good doctors do exist. Don’t give up until you find one.

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