When you screw up at work, your job’s on the line. When doctors screw up, someone else’s life is on the line. Talk about serious pressure. Maybe it’s why nearly half of U.S. physicians experience symptoms of burnout–think: exhaustion and depression–according to a new study in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. “This is the first study offering a unique window into the problem,” says Eric Topol, M.D., director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, and Men’s Health advisor.
But does a tired doctor deserve the pink slip? Not necessarily: “It’s the doctors who stay up all night worrying about their patients who may burn out, but they also care the most,” says Travis Stork, M.D., an E.R. doc and Men’s Health advisor.
So how can you know whether your M.D. should stay or should go? Here are four questions to ask yourself.
Is he a team player? “The model is no longer doctor knows best,” Dr. Topol says. And sure, you went to the doctor for a reason, but it’s your body. A good doctor presents options, makes a specific recommendation–going with a surgical procedure or medication–and explains why he believes it’s the best, says Dr. Topol. Beware of an M.D. who has little time for questions, or says things like, “This is really the only way.”
Does he communicate well? When it comes to coordinating with other physicians, check that your doctor is talking to other providers involved in your care. If you’re being treated for a more serious issue–cancer or a heart problem, for instance–your doc should make it clear that he’s consulted with your oncologist or cardiologist and is up-to-date on your health. If your physician is asking whether you’ve had a certain procedure done or what treatments you’ve had, it’s clear he hasn’t reviewed your file.
Is he up to date? Burnout means exhaustion, which could mean he’s behind on recent medical journals or the latest technology. “The biggest recent change is being able to collect your own data–everything from blood pressure to brain waves–with apps and other programs,” Dr. Topol says. (Case in point: An app to predict a heart attack may be just years away.) And while you shouldn’t sideline a doc for being slow on the latest tech, it’s a green light if he asks about a program you’re using so he can research it–assuming he actually does. Your physician should be willing to work with information you present him, and share his educated opinion, Dr. Topol adds.
Does he pay attention? Look for body language that’s he’s all there–facing you, looking up frequently even when entering information into files, nodding, and maintaining eye contact, says Dr. Stork. “Even if your appointment is 7 to 12 minutes, he shouldn’t make you feel rushed,” Dr. Topol adds. Another good sign: He asks about you. Even if he doesn’t remember ever single patient, a good doctor takes the time to review your file before, Dr. Topol says.
If you need a new doc . . .
Think you’re in the market for a new M.D.? Go with a referral. While telling your current doc that you’re kicking him to the curb could be awkward, asking something specific you’d like your doctor to provide that your current one isn’t able to is easier. Ask if he recommends any docs who offer evening and weekend hours, or ones who embrace the newest technology. If you’re usually in the doctor’s office for a particular reason, you could also ask: “Are there any local physicians who specialize in urology (or whatever your primary issue is)?” Otherwise, seek online reviews or speak to friends and family who may have gone through similar scenarios.