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What do you want from your doctor?


Finding a good doctor is like finding a good lover: there are lots of anecdotes but no data Richard Smith

Our family has moved to an new city and we are looking for a family doctor. What would you look for if you knew a little about evidence based medicine? Would you want your doctor to have read the latest medical journals and could quote research evidence for every decision they make? New premises? New furniture? Free wifi? Short waiting times? A coffee machine? Text messaging? Internet booking? A PhD?

How do you choose a new dentist? A new hairdresser? Do you just walk in to the nearest premises and hope for the best? Do you ask your neighbours for a recommendation? Do you google the names you see in the phone book? The chances are you spend more time choosing a restaurant then you do choosing your doctor. And yet there is far more at stake other than a good meal or a hair cut.

For us in selecting a doctor nothing matters as much as the doctor’s interest in our family. Our new doctor may not have read this week’s medical journal but he or she will be curious about our family because they will want to understand the context of any symptoms . That isn’t simply limited to our medical history, allergies or genetic predisposition. It also means the fact that we have moved interstate, we have new jobs, renting for the first time in years and experiencing a number of other life events. They will take into account any support we might be receiving from friends or family and our satisfaction or otherwise with our decision to relocate.

If you feel the same way then you might agree that doctors, especially family physicians aka general practitioners, provide a relationship and not just a service. This is what we seek when we consult a doctor:

Their willingness to make eye contact, to listen actively, to pick up verbal and non-verbal cues, to be respectful  and unwavering in the opinion that our perspective on our bodies and its functioning is what matters the most. To our new doctor we will be free to make choices. They will see their role as adviser and advocate rather than enforcer of what’s best for us as determined by somebody else. The best doctors understand that they may not have all the information on which we make decisions but faithfully realise that we also want what they want i.e. what’s in our best interests.

I love this quote from Anatole Broyard:

What do I want in a doctor? I would say that I want one who is a close reader of illness and a good critic of medicine…I see no reason or need for my doctor to love me, nor would I expect him to suffer with me. I wouldn’t demand a lot of my doctor’s time, I just wish he would brood on my situation for perhaps five minutes, that he would give me his whole mind just once, be bonded with me for a brief space, survey my soul as well as my flesh, to get at my illness, for each man is ill in his own way.

We will choose our next doctor based on how we feel not what we think. Is that a good thing? It’s not logical, but it’s the only basis on which humans make the most important decisions in life.

Picture by frances1972


  1. Robyn Carr says:

    When I shifted cities 11 years ago, I used ‘word of mouth’ before deciding on a GP. A general surgeon friend recommended two GP’s because when they sent him referrals the patient had had the correct test and the diagnosis was correct. I then went and met the 1st GP and was most impressed. I have not been disappointed in the 11 years.
    I did not visit the 2nd GP as she was a neighbour.
    Yes they do need to be well read and up to date with the latest, but also experience helps.

  2. This is a thoughtful reflection on the nature of the relationship, and I love it for its eloquence. I led a team that involved thousands of people in Vancouver BC, in a dialogue about their relationship with their GP. We found that although there is lots to criticize about the health care “system,” people see the relationship with their family doctor as a fundamental and deeply personal one. So I love this clear reflection on what’s important – great doctors are indeed empathetic and holistic!

  3. I agree that, “doctors, especially family physicians provide a relationship and not just a service”. When you visit the same doctor over a period of years you would hope that they would remember you and whats going on with your life. I don’t get sick very often, about once a year. When I do get sick I would love to be happy to visit the doctor because he is my friend. I think this is a good goal for doctors to have.

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