Staying with a doctor you're not happy with is as harmful as staying in a relationship you know is bad because it's easier than making a change. But parting ways may be the healthiest move. Here are nine signs that it's time to fire your doctor. (For simplicity, the references below are to male doctors, but men don't have a monopoly on unacceptable behavior.)
1. You don't mesh. You and your doctor don't need to see eye to eye on everything, but it's helpful if you work well together. If you want a partnership, for example, a doctor who spouts commands is not the best fit. If you value warmth, you may not be able to build an effective relationship with a physician who seems formal or distant. "Some patients like doctors who are very direct and blunt," says Washington, D.C. based family physician Kenny Lin, who blogs for U.S. News. "And some patients can't stand that type of doctor because they think he or she isn't empathetic enough or doesn't provide enough options." When there's a mismatch, neither person is at fault—but it could be grounds for termination.
2. He doesn't respect your time. Do you routinely wait an hour to see your physician only to feel like he's speed-doctoring through the visit? You should never feel like you're being rushed. If your doctor doesn't take the time to answer your questions or address your concerns, there's a problem. The medical community is becoming increasingly sensitive to patients' precious time. When they're late for an appointment, some habitually tardy doctors have even begun compensating patients with money or gifts. If your doctor's chronic lateness makes you grind your teeth, why stay with him? Hint: If you're evaluating a prospective physician, investigate his timeliness beforehand.
3. He keeps you in the dark. A doctor should be open and thorough about why he recommends a certain treatment or orders a specific test, and he should share all results with you. "If a doctor doesn't explain himself, or at least not to your satisfaction, at that point a doctor is bad," Lin says. "I know doctors who have drawn blood or run a bunch of tests without telling patients why they're doing them and what they mean." It's also important that a doctor uses terms you understand, rather than complicated medical jargon; otherwise, explanations are meaningless. Your health is too important to feel confused or uninformed.
4. He doesn't listen. Does your doctor hear you out without interrupting? "It all comes down to communication and whether you feel like you're asking questions and they're not being answered," says Carolyn Clancy, director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. She recalls visiting a doctor for a second opinion on whether she should go through with a procedure recommended by her dentist. "He made a big leap—that I didn't want to have it done because I was afraid of the pain—and kept reassuring me that it was virtually pain-free. That's not what I was asking. After three rounds, I concluded that we weren't going to get to a productive place, and I didn't go back."
5. The office staff is unprofessional. The receptionists are the link between you and the doctor. If they blow you off—or neglect to give your message to the physician, say about side effects of a new medication—your health could be at risk. Even if you like your doctor, a bad office staff could signal it's time to look elsewhere.
6. You don't feel comfortable with him, or wonder about his competence. Doctors need to know intimate details you may not even share with friends or family members. If you're unable to disclose such facts, you and your doctor may not be the right match. A sense of unease about his decisions and recommendations, even if you can't say exactly why, is also a perfectly legitimate reason for cutting the cord, says Don Powell, president of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, a nonprofit that promotes healthy behavior through wellness programs and publications. Beware of sloppy medical mistakes, too: If your doctor prescribes a medication to which you're allergic, and you know that information is in your history, a separation may be in order.
7. He doesn't coordinate with other doctors. Your primary care physician should be the quarterback of your healthcare team, managing each step of the medical process. That means keeping track of specialists' reports and instructions and talking with you about their recommendations. If he's slacking, an important piece of your care could slip through the cracks.
8. He's unreachable. A good doctor is available for follow-up questions and concerns. Patient advocate Trisha Torrey, author of You Bet Your Life! The 10 Mistakes Every Patient Makes, recalls the time her husband developed severe tooth pain on a weekend. His dentist's voicemail included a cell phone number and a promise of a quick response, but he never heard back. An emergency clinic visit and root canal later, he told his dentist she was fired. A growing number of doctors are making themselves available to patients via E-mail, text message, and Skype, and at the very least, you need to know that in an emergency, you won't be left hanging.
9. He's rude or condescending. Time to part ways. Same goes if he trivializes your concerns as though they're not valid. One of the clearest signs you should move on is if he walks out of the room while you're still talking, says Clancy. That's what happened when her sister met with a surgeon to determine if her daughter should go through with a procedure. "When my sister finished asking her question, the doctor was gone," Clancy recalls. "She called me afterward and I told her, 'You have to find someone else. You'll regret it if you don't.'"