There I was lying on a stretcher in a neighborhood ER, with a sick liver. I was 79 years old. The intake doctor examined me and then made this comment: “You know, you’re old.”
Time to Fire Your Doctor?
“Wow! Thanks for letting me know. I was wondering about these wrinkles.”
Some doctors automatically assume that older adults need to be treated differently from other patients. They assume we’re not as alert, not as knowledgeable, and need to be reminded that we’re not as likely to experience recovery or improvement from any given ailment or symptom. This fairly common form of medical ageism can be more than annoying; it can lead to false diagnoses and inadequate or inappropriate treatment.
Your doctor may be treating you as a “typical senior,” instead of an individual, if:
• When you say that you wake up a lot at night, your doctor replies: “Well, you are over 65.”
• Your doctor says, “Everyone over 70 should eat....”
• Your daughter is with you and the doctor asks her (instead of you) about your health issues.
• You complain about an aching back, and your doctor says: “Just take two of these pain pills....”
• You complain about painful sex, and the doctor hands you a brochure instead of offering specific remedies or a referral to a specialist.
Help your doctor get to know you as a person
Try to schedule an appointment that allows extra time. Let your doctor know your health goals—both long term (I want to work at least another 10 years; I want to be able to continue playing the piano) and short term (I’m going on a trip in the spring and want to be able to keep up with the tour group). Be sure to ask questions when you don’t understand your options or plans for future care. A good doctor will always make time to be sure the patient is fully informed.
If it’s time to move on
Here are six questions to consider in choosing a new doctor:
1. Does he or she have experience in treating older women?
2. Will you feel comfortable talking to this person about personal or intimate issues?
3. Is he or she able and willing to coordinate all your health services and medications? As we age, we tend to accumulate meds and problems, and they all have to work well together.
4. Does the doctor have a record of complaints or a disciplinary history?
5. Does the doctor have Board Certification?
6. Does he or she take Medicare patients?
Sites that can help you find the right doctor
Healthgrades is an independent health care rating company for doctors, dentists, and hospitals in the U.S.
ratemds.com rates doctors and dentists in the U.S., Canada, Australia, UK, India, and elsewhere.
zocdoc.com is a very easy-to-use site. Includes info on doctor backgrounds, qualifications, which doctors take Medicare, as well as patient reviews.
DoctorFinder gives you basic professional information on virtually every licensed physician in the U.S. This includes more than 814,000 doctors, and provides info on office hours, accepted insurance providers, educational history, and more.
For more information:
• seniorplanet.org - time to fire your doctor
• nia.nih.gov - start choosing a doctor
• healthinaging.org - find a geriatic professional
• nim.nih.gov - directories
• apps.ama-assn.org - doctor finder
• asknelly.com - how to choose a doctor