"Go with your gut reaction. If you don't feel good about a physician, go somewhere else. Remember that your best friend's doctor may not be right for you and your family."
What are other good ways to recognize a bad doctor? We checked in with experts who identified seven warning signs to watch out for:
An indifferent or uncaring attitude
You're looking for medical care, not a new friend – so a sparkling personality probably isn't a priority when choosing a doctor. Still, it's smart to steer clear of one who is consistently cold and patronizing, or who has no memory of you from one visit to the next.
This may sound obvious, but sometimes a prestigious medical degree, fancy address, or robust marketing campaign can conceal the fact that a physician is a lackluster practitioner."caring and curing cannot be separated."
When it comes to your child's doctor, pay attention to how he or she interacts with your child. A visit to the doctor can be a frightening experience, and a caring pediatrician or family doctor will take the time to make your little one feel comfortable.
Doesn't listen, unresponsive
The most highly trained and experienced doctor still needs to listen to his or her patients and be open to their feedback and concerns.
Humility is important. As a patient, if I go to a doctor who says, 'I know what to do, this is the only way to do it, and you should just listen to me,' I'll be out the door in 30 seconds. I want someone who takes a considered and open-minded approach, not someone who is dogmatic and overconfident,"
Most doctors are extremely busy, but a good doctor will still take the time to answer your questions. If you're made to feel that your concerns or questions are foolish or inappropriate, it's a bad sign.
As a patient, you have the right to expect courtesy and responsiveness, not just from your doctor but from everyone in the office – from the receptionist to the advice nurse. The doctor, or someone in the office, should respond to your phone calls in a timely manner.
Lack of knowledge
Consider changing doctors if yours – or your child's – doesn't seem to keep up with the latest medical literature or be aware of medical breakthroughs or other health information. Part of the job is to educate patients about their health. That means explaining the results of medical tests, keeping patients informed about drugs prescribed, and providing nutrition and other health advice.
Don't expect your doctor to be able to respond to all your questions or diagnose every problem on the spot. But it is reasonable to expect your medical provider to find the answers and get back to you.
If you detect a pattern of errors by your doctor or your doctor's staff – the wrong tests are ordered, for example, or messages don't get passed on – find another provider. Everyone makes mistakes, of course, but repeated oversights or routine sloppiness could indicate that your doctor makes bigger blunders as well.
A bad doctor is likely to have a tarnished reputation. You may need to do some detective work to make sure a doctor is up to snuff.
Start by talking to a primary care doctor you trust, as well as friends, relatives, and co-workers who may be familiar with the doc. Check websites that provide consumer reviews of physicians, too. Doing your homework can help reassure you that you've trusted your family's care to the right person.
Always pushes further tests and procedures
A doctor should recommend additional tests or procedures if they're warranted, but be wary if this happens all the time.
In some cases, doctors order additional tests out of an excess of caution. "It may mean they don't trust their own judgment." "If your child has pneumonia and the doctor orders a chest X-ray, that's fine. But it shouldn't happen every time you come in."
If you question the need for a procedure, get a second opinion. And if your doctor objects, consider it a red flag.
"When I was a brand-new doctor, I think I was a little defensive when my patients told me they were seeking a second opinion, but now I welcome it. It means the patient is thinking clearly about his or her medical care, which is a good thing,"says a doctor.
Not respectful of your time
How long should you expect to wait at your doctor's office? A 20-minute wait is reasonable; more than an hour is not.
"There will be emergencies, of course, but if you routinely wait an hour or more, look around for a new doctor,"
If you're joining a new medical practice, you might want to call the office a few times and see how long you have to wait on hold before you get your questions answered.
Tip: To avoid long waits, schedule your appointments early in the day. If you can, avoid scheduling routine checkups during the height of the cold and flu season.
Spotty credentials and affiliations
Most physicians are board certified. This isn't a guarantee of competence, but it is an important seal of approval. Unless a doctor is fresh out of medical school and hasn't taken board exams yet, not being board certified is a warning sign that something's not right.
Avoid doctors who have no hospital affiliation or are affiliated with a hospital that has bad ratings. Where a doctor received his or her medical diploma should carry a lot of weight, however. "If a person graduated from medical school and passed his or her medical board exams, I think those are good enough screening tools."
While education and credentials are vital, don't ignore personal characteristics that can be hard to measure: "The kind of doctor you are has more to do with your curiosity and compassion as an individual than anything else."