When Patients Ask About Other Physicians, Answers Are Tough to Find

November 14, 2011

Patients ask me many questions when they come for their visits … but there are certain questions that I feel I am not in a position to answer.

Patients ask me many questions when they come for their visits. Some of them call with even more questions. And while I will happily explain the pathophysiology of their endocrine disorder, review the risks and benefits of their treatment options for thyroid nodules, and remind them (for the 13th time) how and when to take their diabetes medications, there are certain questions that I feel I am not in a position to answer.

“My cardiologist/primary-care/lung doctor told me to take this medicine. What do you think?” My usual answer is: “I think that you should discuss that with your cardiologist/primary/lung doctor.” There are very few things in medicine that are black and white. Unless there is a clear contraindication to a drug, I will not tell a patient not to take something another doctor has prescribed.

“My other doctor told me that I need this surgery. But it’s risky. What should I do?” Again, my standard answer: “It’s really not my area of expertise. You need to weigh the risks and benefits.”

“My primary is referring me to Dr. X for my (fill in the blank). Is he a good doctor?” Now I have been lucky to be fairly healthy, so my interactions with other physicians is primarily one of colleague and referring-consulting physician. So my knowledge as far as their expertise is limited. I know there are one or two doctors in the area that I wouldn’t take my dog to, and I know there are physicians I would trust the life of my family to. But “good” is such a vague and subjective term. And I’ll tell you, based on patient feedback, my interactions with other doctors do not always reflect their interactions with their patients. There is one doctor who has always been incredibly friendly to me, yet many patients complain about his bedside manner. There’s another that scares the bejeezus out of me, yet her patients love her.

And the number one question I hate to hear: “What would you do if you were me?” Ugh. “Well, since I am not you, I can’t tell you what I would do. I can only tell you what I would do if I had to make the choice for me, in my life, with my family, my health, and my finances.”

I hate to skate around patients’ questions. I wonder if they leave feeling disappointed. It’s so much easier to say (for the 13th time) “you take it in the morning, on an empty stomach.”

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