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How to Spot a Good Doctor

Just seniority or fame is not necessarily proof of competence

Published: Apr 8, 2011 06:35:31 AM IST
Updated: Apr 8, 2011 08:13:58 AM IST
How to Spot a Good Doctor
Image: Vidyanand Kamat

Something has been bothering me lately. A friend of mine was recently hospitalised at a famous metro hospital. There he went under the care of a hot shot doctor — highly educated, widely published, senior in his department and an obvious choice as anybody’s doctor. Catch was the doctor lacked compassion. “There are only three qualities every good doctor should have,” my wise neurosurgeon father says, “knowledge, clinical skills and a lot of compassion.” The good news is there are many such doctors out there; here are some hard-earned tips on how to spot them.

Make Friends with Insiders
When I want to assess the skills of a surgeon, I ask an anaesthesiologist, operating theatre technician or resident physician; i.e., insiders who have seen the surgeon operate and can assess confidence, dexterity and outcomes.   

An important corollary is not to put too much weight on recommendations from people who are not insiders. When a journalist quotes a doctor in a story, it is not an endorsement that the doctor is ‘good’. A patient who has undergone medical care with a particular physician naturally becomes an insider. However, the patient cannot comment on all those doctors who have not treated her.  

Learn What Matters

When you ask for suggestions on doctors, or are firsthand evaluating a doctor, you should know what will matter in your care. The number of operations a surgeon has performed matters.

But if you go by that alone, you may miss out on some brilliant young surgeons who will give you extra time and attention as well.   
It matters how well your doctor listens to you.  You can help by being concise and expediently arriving at your complaint. The diligence with which your doctor performs a physical exam on you also matters. Dr. Valentin Fuster of Mt. Sinai Medical Center, New York City, is one of the finest cardiologists I have observed. Before he asks a single question of a revisit patient, he will carefully listen to the heart to hear for himself what is going on. High-end investigations may follow, but only after he has formulated a differential diagnosis based on his own exam.

Know What to Ask
“How will we use the results of this test in the further management of my condition?” is a fair question before an extensive diagnostic test. Other good questions are what to expect during therapy, what are the risks involved, and what lifestyle changes may be required post treatment. The way a doctor answers these questions will give insight both to their knowledge and compassion.  

To conclude, remember the goodness trio: Knowledge, clinical skills and compassion. Observe, ask questions and use insiders. Once you know what you’re looking for, your job is nearly done!

Dr. Kumar, and our health team, can be contacted at health.forbesindia@network18online.com

(This story appears in the 22 April, 2011 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)