How to Fire Your Doctor
Photo Credit: Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock
For some people, leaving their doctor might cause as much stress as leaving a romantic relationship. Both scenarios involve rejecting someone; however, when you leave your doctor, you’re also leaving the “authority” figure in the relationship.
In general, the whole doctor/patient dynamic is often set up as if the doctor is the expert, and you’re the supplicant. Which honestly, if that’s how you feel in your relationship with your doctor, then definitely read on, because it’s time to change the energy — and possibly your doctor.
As a person who had various health challenges from a young age (I had surgery every year from age 14 to 21), I learned early how to recognize the right doctor for me and how to weed out the wrong ones. Those surgeries, which culminated in my right kidney being removed, I now view as a huge benefit, because I learned many invaluable lessons about trusting my body, my intuition, and using my voice.
When I was a child, my mother was constantly taking me to the doctor because of recurring pain in my back and side. I had unexplained anemia, so my primary care doctor was a hematologist. I also once had a UTI, so the primary care doctor questioned whether there was some kind of sexual abuse happening (there wasn’t). For most of my childhood, I was in pain, and my mom kept trying to make it stop.
Then, when I was in junior high school, I was accepted into an accelerated science program that allowed some of my classmates and me to observe medical students and their work with cadavers. We were given case histories of the “patients” to study and allowed to watch as the med students performed various procedures.
Well, as divine intervention would have it, one of the case studies chronicled symptoms that sounded just like mine. It was an 80-year-old woman who had kidney problems. I knew instantly that I had the same issue as this woman. I immediately shared my finding with my mom, and she sprang into action and made an appointment with a nephrologist.
Dr. Mahini was a lovely man who listened to us and then promptly scheduled a simple blue-dye test, which revealed that my right ureter, the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder, was too small, so the urine was backing up and killing the kidney. The pain I experienced was from constant kidney infections, which also explained that UTI.
If my primary care doctor had just bothered to listen, my suffering would have been over years earlier, and I might still have my right kidney.
When we requested my records from the primary care doctor, we discovered that she had written in my records that my mother was a hypochondriac and was trying to turn me into one and that my pain was sympathy pain for Nana, my great-grandmother, who had angina. In addition to being pure nonsense, it also meant that any doctor my mom took me to would view whatever we were saying through the lens of “they’re crazy” and do nothing but smile, pat us on the head, and collect the co-pay. If that primary care doctor had just bothered to listen, my suffering would have been over years earlier, and I might still have my right kidney.
Obviously, my mom fired that doctor and reported her to the medical center she was affiliated with. This was all pre-Yelp reviews, but had it existed at that time, we definitely would have made her failings public.
How Do You Know You Should Change Your Doctor?
So I know firsthand that having the wrong doctor can truly jeopardize your health and even your life. If you want to know how to pick the right doctor, and if you’re in a bad patient/doctor relationship, here are the steps to take to get out:
First, call the office and request your records. Different offices have different procedures for fulfilling your requests, but the bottom line is they are your records, and you are entitled to them.
Today many doctors immediately update your lab and test results onto a patient portal where you can access them directly. If that’s the case, then print or download those files, since once you’re no longer a patient, you might lose access to that portal. If your doctor doesn’t maintain a patient portal, you can still request hard copies of everything, as many doctors will not send records via email to you.
You need to have all your records for your next doctor. And you need to see for yourself what’s in the notes, as well as what tests have and haven’t been performed.
Next, be clear on what you’re looking for in your next doctor. You might use that clarity to write a letter to the doctor that you’re leaving, explaining why you’re leaving. Or you might use those criteria for interviewing your next physician.
Personally, the same way I believe the breaker-upper of a romantic relationship should share why they’re opting out of the relationship, I think the same consideration should be given to a doctor. The doctor may digest the feedback and strive to be better with her future patients. Or it might be that you’re leaving because of issues with the support staff. Whatever the reason, it’s important for the doctors to know, since ultimately they are running a business, and if they are made aware of an issue, there’s a good chance they’ll address it.
Whether you choose to share your reasons for leaving your doctor or not, be sure to put in writing that you are terminating the relationship. I recommend an email as well as a signature-required letter. You should also let your other doctors know, since they might discuss shared patients.
Finally, it’s important to share your experience with other potential patients via online reviews, especially if you’re leaving for reasons as serious as a misdiagnosis or malpractice. You can file complaints or grievances with your state medical board, which will not disclose your identity.
After all, even though you might not be a doctor, or even play one on TV, you could just save a life.