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AARP The Magazine

Is It Time to Find a New Doctor?

From too-quick exams to a tone-deaf bedside manner, your physician may be signaling that he's not right for you. Here's how to know when to shop around

Substandard communication isn't just annoying, though. It also has serious implications for your health. "Research shows very clearly that when patients are actively involved in their decision making, and their opinions and perspectives are incorporated into a health care plan, there are much better outcomes," says Maysel Kemp White, Ph.D., of the American Academy on Communication in Healthcare.

Despite all this, even patients who are less than pleased with their doctors may be hesitant to leave them. First, there are logistical challenges, such as transferring a long medical history or finding a conveniently located physician who is covered by the patient's health plan. And boomers monitoring the health of their aging parents should know that Americans over 70 often resist changing doctors, mostly because they were raised with a profound respect for authority and don't want to offend, says Marilyn Gugliucci, Ph.D., who directs geriatrics education and research at the University of New England.

If you do decide to pink-slip your doctor, try to leave on the best possible terms, because your new doctor may need to consult your old one. Katharine Treadway, M.D., associate professor at Harvard Medical School, recommends sending the old physician a letter describing the specific reasons you decided to change. "It may be hard to write — and also hard to hear as a doctor," she says. "But we all learn things from what we've done wrong."

Caroline E. Mayer is a consumer reporter and lives in Arlington, Va.

6 Warning Signs That You May Need a New Doctor

So how do you know if your doctor isn't "the one"?

Your gut is often your best guide, experts say. But here are a few warning signs that you might need to give your doctor the boot, courtesy of geriatrician James Pacala, M.D., of the University of Minnesota.

Be wary of a physician who:

1. Dismisses every complaint, blaming age.

2. Insists that nothing can be done. There is always something to try.

3. Spends too little time with you, or interrupts you frequently, especially if you're a patient with complex, multiple issues.

4. Writes a prescription with minimum discussion.

5. Recommends treatments without considering your lifestyle.

6. Prescribes a variety of medications and procedures, or keeps referring you to more specialists without any improvement.

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