The frustrations that drive patients to 'fire' their doctors

Survey says patients are bothered by long waits, rushed visits

Rushed office visits, hard-to-resolve billing disputes, and communication problems are among patients' biggest complaints about their providers, according to a Consumer Reports survey of 1,000 U.S. residents.

Patients' biggest complaints

The survey asked participants to rate 16 complaints on a scale of one to 10, with 10 meaning "you are bothered tremendously." Overall, the top five complaints were:
  • Unclear explanation of problem (with an average rating of 8.1);
  • Test results not communicated fast (with an average rating of 7.9);
  • Billing disputes hard to resolve (with an average rating of 7.8);
  • Hard to get quick appointment when sick (with an average rating of 7.8); and
  • Rushed during office visits (with an average rating of 7.8).

Concerns varied based on gender and age. For instance, women were more bothered than men about private conversations conducted within earshot of other patients and about rushed office visits. Meanwhile, patients over age 65 were more bothered by long forms than younger patients, while patients under age 35 were less bothered by potential overtesting than older patients.

When patients should change doctors

Sometimes, patients' concerns are significant enough that they drive them to "fire" their doctors, according to Consumer Reports medical adviser Orly Avitzur. "Like in any relationship, sometimes the chemistry just isn't right," he told the Wall Street Journal.

Experts say patients should consider changing physicians if:

  • The patient leaves the doctor's office with more questions than answers. If the physician is not explaining diagnoses and treatments with clarity, then a patient should speak up and ask for clarification, Avitzur says. It is better for a patient's health and finances to see a physician that communicates well.
  • The physician dismisses the patient's questions and input. A good doctor should encourage questions and input related to their own research, according to American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson Alanna Levine. At the same time, patients should listen to what their physician recommends as a reputable online source.
  • The physician has misdiagnosed the patient. Firing a physician when a missed diagnosis turned into a life-threatening situation is always plausible, but not every misdiagnosis is a sign of negligence, Avitzur says. A patient should first see if the physician apologizes or offers a credible explanation.
  • The physician discourages a patient from seeking a second opinion. A physician should not balk at the idea of getting a second opinion, Avitzur says, adding that if "the reaction you get makes you feel badly, that's definitely a reason to fire your doctor." Moreover, health insurance generally covers second opinions.
  • If the physician is not board-certified. Patients can check online to see if their physician is board-certified—and therefore qualified to treat patients—at no cost (Consumer Reports survey, 6/2013; Gerencher, Journal, 6/29).

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