Blog | Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Transitioning to a new doctor as a challenge or opportunity


Over the past few weeks, several patients I saw faced a common challenge. This is a situation I have confronted in the past, but what was unique recently is that multiple patients in a short period of time were in the same situation.

This was not a medical issue. In fact, many of the individuals were feeling perfectly well. This was not a financial issue, such as the patients were in the dreaded insurance “doughnut” or their particular medications were not covered by their insurance companies. This was not a second opinion request from patients who suspected that their gastroenterologist (GI) of record may have missed something.

Here's what happened. A gastroenterology practice that had been in the community for decades closed down. Suddenly, tens of thousands of patients with an array of digestive maladies were let loose to find a new digestive nest to occupy. I'm sure that every GI within 20 miles of my office has been affected. Many of them have landed on my schedule and I expect this will continue over the weeks and months to come.

This is a challenge both for the patients and the new GI specialists. The patients I have seen all loved their prior GI some of whom were treated by their practice for decades. These were not dissatisfied patients who were seeking advice elsewhere. They were happy and satisfied where they were. And now they were forced to sit across from a new doctor—a perfect stranger—who faced the task of trying to lay out a pathway to a new relationship.

This isn't easy and both parties must contribute to the success of the effort. The physician must be mindful of how disruptive and anxious this process is for the patients and their families. Patients must recognize that the physician cannot be expected to quickly replicate a rapport that may have taken years to establish. Additionally, physicians, as individual human beings, cannot be expected to have similar personality trains and practice philosophy. Patients and physicians need to exhibit some understanding and flexibility as they both enter the new nest.

Change is always challenging and particularly so when it is unexpected. There may also be some unexpected upside. The new physician, who brings no bias to the case, may offer some fresh insights on some old and stubborn medical issues.

The doctor-patient relationship is the foundational unit of medical care. Like all relationships, it needs to be cultivated and nourished from time to time. Both sides need to give the other some space to maneuver and shift a position when necessary in order to make progress together. So, if life conspires to put you in front of a new doctor, consider it an opportunity rather than a challenge.

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.