4 Traits You Want in a Doctor

Have you found the right fit?

doctor comfort

You trust doctors with your health.

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When you think about the patient-doctor relationship in those terms, you realize just how important it is for the relationship to be a good match. When it is, your health benefits. When it isn’t, you may find yourself suffering from a lack of clarity regarding your care.

With that in mind, below are a few of the top traits you should look for in a doctor.

1. Active listening

When you leave an appointment, do you feel like you’re leaving a lecture or a conversation?

A conversation is much more productive. You want a doctor who respects your opinion, listens with attention as you describe your health challenges and symptoms, and asks follow-up questions that dig deeper.

Ultimately, your doctor needs to understand how you make decisions about your care. Some patients are really active in the joint decision-making process. They dig into online research before an appointment and come ready with talking points. Others are more likely to talk through issues, then lean on the expertise of a doctor for treatment options.

If your doctor is an active listener, he or she will know what type of patient you are — and act accordingly.

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2. Trustworthiness and comfort

Once you find an active listener, you need to feel comfortable sharing all relevant information with your doctor. That includes sensitive topics, from unexpected weight gain to sexual health issues.

But in the best patient-doctor relationships, you also build enough trust to talk about your home life, your attitudes and other factors that affect your care. This nonmedical knowledge matters more than you think.

For example, if I’m referring a patient with a new cancer diagnosis to an oncologist, I want to know that patient’s attitudes about treatments. Are they aggressive? Are they conservative? The answer will help me find a specialist to match.

Likewise, a doctor who knows you’re facing financial struggles can take that into account when prescribing medication or ordering diagnostic tests. But it all starts with you trusting your doctor enough to share that information. If you don’t, you might not have the right fit.

3. Effective communication

Medicine can be complicated, and often you are feeling vulnerable when you’re in a doctor’s office, depending on your reason for being there.

The last thing you want is to walk out of an appointment feeling like you didn’t understand a thing the doctor said.

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Seek a doctor who explains everything in terms you can understand — and who asks you, “Did you understand what we discussed today?” Find someone who’s willing to repeat or clarify information when your answer is, “No.”

4. Respect for your time

Getting you into the office rather than leaving you in the waiting room. Allowing you ample time to ask questions during an appointment. Getting your lab results back in a timely manner — and letting you know when you can expect them.

All of these amount to respecting your time, and the best doctors respect your time.

Keep in mind things don’t always go as planned. Appointments run long when medical emergencies arise, for example. When that happens, effective communication — letting you know what’s happening and when you can expect to be seen — goes a long way.

In the end, the best sign of respecting your time comes in the exam room. If you come away from an appointment feeling like your doctor listened to you, arrived at a proper care plan, and explained that plan in clear terms, you likely have found the right doctor for you.

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Michael Rabovsky, MD

Michael Rabovsky, MD, is Medical Advisor for the Health Essentials blog. He chairs the Department of Family Medicine in Cleveland Clinic’s Medicine Institute and actively promotes wellness and disease prevention.
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