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11 Doctors Explain How to Spot a Bad Doctor

Photo courtesy of [Un Bolshakov / Flickr](

Photo courtesy of Un Bolshakov / Flickr

What makes a bad doctor? We’d all like to think we can trust what comes out of a doctor’s mouth. In fact, most of us wouldn’t normally dare question a diagnosis they give simply because we don’t understand what they’re talking about anyway. But next time you’re sitting in an examination room twiddling your thumbs, do yourself a favor instead and remember these tips given by actual doctors turned Reddit users.

1. Give It to Me Straight, Doc Unfortunately I don’t think there’s a simple way for people without a medical background to evaluate the competence of their doctor. We get credited with cures unrelated to treatment and blamed for misfortunes that could not have been reasonably avoided. Patient satisfaction has far more to do with a doctor’s interpersonal skills than their clinical acumen.

2. Flip the Script If they ask the right questions but don’t pay attention to the replies. A lot of lazy doctors just have a script they work through, and so long as your replies don’t completely throw them off, they just make their way through it without picking up on things like uncertainty when answering or nervousness or crossed wires.

3. For the Sensitive A doctor who doesn’t have any empathy for your situation and just wants to treat the medical bit and get rid of you. As a patient you should not be treated like a case out of a textbook.

A good doctor will ask you how you are coping at home, what your biggest concerns are and they should try to put you in touch with OT/social services/charities/advocacy groups to try and improve your quality of life as a whole. Someone who uses this kind of holistic approach is someone you want as a doctor

4. Don’t Be a Burzynski If they distance themselves from the medical community, claim to be persecuted due to their methods or that they are a “maverick” with a unique treatment. This is a massive red flag that they are the outlier among evidence-based specialists and potentially dangerous.

Probably the best current example is Stanislaw Burzynski. Medicine is a science and they are doing it wrong.

5. Prejudice vs. History When they ignore what you say or fail to take an accurate history - this is when misdiagnoses tend to occur. When they are overtly prejudiced regarding race, gender or disability - this can impact badly on your treatment.

6. You Might Want To Write This One Down I think the biggest red flag is if your doctor acts like a dick to you. Doctors are people too, and they come in all varieties. If you meet a doctor and he/she is a jerk, never go back to them. There are plenty of doctors out there and you can find one with empathy who makes you feel heard and respected. Don’t let them talk down to you, your feelings and concerns are valid regardless of what anyone else tells you and you deserve to find a doctor who is willing to be there for you. Ask for a second opinion, ask for a referral, or ask to be scheduled with a different doctor next time. If you feel like your needs were not addressed, ask for short follow-up (1-2 weeks). If you go home and feel worse, call in, ask for help. They may send you to the ER for a million dollar work-up, but that may be what you need (scans, STAT lab work). Don’t settle, you may be the patient, but you can still be in control.

7. The ‘Ol Dump Job Not explaining the diagnosis. Not giving alternative LEGITIMATE treatment options. Rarely is there ever only one good option (from an actual licensed healthcare professional).

8. Background Check Check where your doctor did their medical school and residency. Residency at a community hospital instead of an academic center in a big city increases the probability that they won’t practice good evidence-based medicine. Not a great correlation, but it improves your odds when picking a doctor near-randomly from a list of providers.

9. Does It Sound Like a Boner Commercial? Ask which drugs pharma companies pay him/her to sell their drugs. Check if that’s what you were prescribed.

10. No Spark Noting, Either Check your doctor’s evidence. Google Scholar puts high quality medical evidence at your fingertips without any special journal subscriptions. If she prescribed you a medicine for your condition, Google scholar the medicine’s generic name, the name of your medical condition and the word “trial” or the word “guidelines.” You should be able to find a recent clinical trial proving its efficacy, or a professional society guideline suggesting its use for your condition.

Example: Lots of rural primary care docs in the US prescribe the addictive drug Xanax (alprazolam) for anxiety. If you do the above Google scholar search, you get clinical trials only as recent as the early 1980s, and lots of recent articles discussing concern for the drug’s addictiveness. Ouch.

11. Paging Dr. Fingles Enthusiasm of checking for testicular cancer.

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