Catherine finds a great health provider: some things that make them great

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CW: mention (by me, not the provider!) of body weight and adjustments in eating habits.

Finding a good health provider is not always easy. Here’s something I’m not looking for:

Gray-haired white and male-presenting doctor explaining to patient where their heart is, using a plastic model.

I found this article on what makes for a good primary care physician. It emphasizes communication, which includes listening and being patient– all good qualities. But then I read this section:

…the doctor must be a good role model which means at least attending to his or her own weight, exercise, stress, smoking (not) and other symbols of disease avoidance, health promotion and wellness. 

No. Just no. Clearly the person writing this article (a physician themselves) needs to take some remedial classes in the complexities of health behavior change. Or at least read our blog.

My past experiences with and continued fear of fat phobia from my health provider have kept me out of the doctor’s office and delayed regular physical exams and tests. However, my experiences with this practice have been pretty positive. While they usually ask to weigh me (annoying and unnecessary when I go in with a sinus infection), I’ve practiced my spiel of “I don’t want to be weighed today”, which they quietly respect.

After putting off my annual physical for oh, about three years and then rescheduling it four times, I finally finally showed up at the office, ready to meet my new provider, Dr. K. She joined them last fall, and specializes in geriatric medicine. A healthcare friend of mine said this was good, as geriatricians are trained specifically to listen to patients. I think this was said tongue in cheek, but I’m not sure. Anyway, why not?

Spoiler alert: my appointment went swimmingly, which is to say I loved Dr K! Here are some things I really liked:

One thing: Dr. K came in and sat down on a stool (I always sit in the chair in the office before getting on the examination table) to talk directly to me. She didn’t sit in front of the computer. Now, this was possible because this practice uses medical scribes– people who type information from the conversation into the medical record. This is such a great thing; it means the provider isn’t pausing during discussion to find the right field for input, and also the provider and patient can have a real conversation face to face.

But it wasn’t just the presence of the medical scribe. Dr. K looked at me and listened. For realz. It was lovely.

Another thing: Dr. K didn’t mention my weight once. We talked about physical activity, and she even asked me what I do for exercise in the winter! It took a little while to explain what a bike trainer was (I should bring photos). This discussion provided an opening for me to talk about eating and self-care. I said that since the pandemic, I’ve had some trouble feeding myself and cooking in ways that felt good-to-me. But, I added, I was working on it. She made a few comments about the Mediterranean diet (not D-I-E-T, but rather foodway), I nodded, and that was that.

A third thing: in the course of discussing health maintenance, and in particular mammograms and colonoscopies, Dr. K listened to me and we worked through my comments, potential objections, and worries about these tests. But she did it in– how can I put this– a fully adult way. She took me seriously (which she bloody well should, but still) and took the time to offer her views on e.g. fecal occult screening vs. colonoscopy. She then responded, rather than fending off my comments. And she was clever: after I said, “there’s no way I’m taking time out of my sabbatical to get a colonoscopy. If I’m doing it, I’ll take sick time from work!”, she said, “Absolutely! So we’ll schedule you for February.”

I saw what you did, Dr. K. And I respect you for it… 🙂

A fourth thing: Dr. K helped me be more patient with the processes of maintaining my own health. What does this mean? Here’s an example: in previous labs, my triglycerides were high. It was a worry of mine, particularly because I don’t want to take a statin. Yes, I know that millions of adults take statins, but I’m concerned about side effects. I declared my pre-refusal to take a statin (totally jumping the gun), and Dr. K said, “but they’re great!” I replied, “are we going to have to sit down with laptops to go over the studies on side effects?” At this point, her cooler head prevailed, and she said we should wait until the tests come back. I agreed. But she said she’d work with me on this. I felt mollified, which was her goal and mine. Winning.

Turns out, my tests came back fine. Triglycerides a little on the high side, but we’ll monitor it. And I’ll futz with my diet (again, meaning eating practices) to see what changes might result in lowering of those numbers.

Last thing (for now): I left the office feeling like I had been taken care of, looked after and listened to. That’s pretty high praise. And I mean it. I’m feeling bullish on working with Dr. K. Yay! Whew…

Oh, and it turns out that we are both from South Carolina and went to the same university (University of South Carolina)! We discovered this in the last minute of the appointment. I don’t require this of my health providers, but it was a nice little extra added bonus.

Readers, do you like your healthcare providers? What do you like about them? What do you look for in a provider? I’d love to hear from you.

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