Your primary care doctor is ultimately the person you trust with your health and wellbeing, the professional you can turn to when you or a family member are in physical pain and is likely to be your first port of call if you’re suffering with mental health issues.
So, why is it that some of us take longer to choose our dinner than we do to pick the right doctor?
It might be easier to just go for the general practitioner who is closest to your home or workplace, or the one your insurance company recommended, but there are a few important factors you should consider before settling for the quick and easy option.
We asked a trio of the UAE’s top physicians what to look for in a good doctor.
What’s the best way to look for a new doctor?
“A good place to start your search is the directory of in-network doctors that your health insurance provides,” says Dr Seyed Hamid Reza, general practitioner and medical director at Dubai London Clinic, Nakheel Mall Branch, Palm Jumeirah. “Then do a Google search for reviews, check healthcare providers’ websites and other online medical directory portals. What works best is word-of-mouth referrals. Social media platforms and group communities and chats can also play an important role as sources of information.”
How important are the recommendations from your health insurance provider?
“Your insurance provider will have a network list of hospitals and clinics they cover on a direct billing arrangement,” explains Dr Fiona Rennie, specialist in family medicine at Genesis Healthcare Center in Science Park, Dubai. “Other clinics are pay-and-claim, and it is important to check that your insurer will reimburse you if you attend a pay-and-claim clinic.”
What should you look out for when choosing the right doctor?
“Patients appear to choose doctors based on their reputation and the reputation of the clinic or hospital they work in,” says Dr Rennie. “Other factors to consider are: does the facility appear clean and well resourced? Do you feel comfortable there? Cultural fit is also important – you need to feel a connection with your primary care physician. Some will try to find a doctor from the same country as them or who speaks the same first language. Communication is extremely important for a primary care doctor.”
What qualities should your doctor have?
“Being a good listener is my motto,” says Dr Safdar Zabeth, general practitioner and diabetes specialist at Medcare Medical Centre in Discovery Gardens. “This allows the patient to speak first. Maintaining eye contact will make the patient feel comfortable and let them tell you exactly what’s wrong. The doctor should use language that is clear and simple rather than using complicated medical terminology and make the patient feel cared for and respected.”
Dr Hamid Reza adds: “The doctor should be able to focus on the health of the whole person, combining physical, psychological and social aspects of care.”
How important is the location?
“Location itself is not so important, but access and convenience are very important,” says Dr Hamid Reza. “Finding a physician close to your home makes it easy to visit on the way to or from work – and reduces the drive from home while you are feeling sick. If visiting the doctor involves a drive across the city, you’re more likely to put off investigating health issues. If your physician recommends follow-up care, it’s much more convenient if the clinic or hospital is close by or convenient. You’ll be more likely to keep appointments for any ongoing care or health management plan.”
Should you choose a specialist over a general practitioner?
“In my opinion the process should start with a GP, who can assess and determine if a specialist is required; in many cases the GP will be able to investigate and treat the problem without needing a specialist to be involved,” explains Dr Rennie. “If the GP feels that a specialist referral is required, they will be able to direct you to the correct specialty for the problem and recommend someone whose skills they value. Unfortunately, the patient doesn’t always choose the correct specialty for their problem and this can lead to over-investigating, being passed from one specialist to another without anyone coordinating. This is what the GP is good at: coordinating specialists, tests and investigations.”
How important is the hospital?
“The hospital’s reputation and ambience can make a huge difference to the experience you have during your consultation or treatment,” says Dr Zabeth. “Things like clean waiting rooms, considerate staff and modern and well-functioning medical equipment with clean and private treatment rooms can definitely help to create a soothing atmosphere. This is why a doctor’s affiliation to a particular hospital is very important, because essentially, if the hospital has a good reputation and offers all the services under one roof, this will make it convenient and efficient for the patient.”
What are the top things to look out for?
“You want to feel comfortable in the clinic and come away feeling that the doctor listened and communicated well, that you have a plan and that the doctor involved you in any decision that was made,” advises Dr Rennie. “Well-trained and happy staff, a good IT system to ensure ease of booking and confidentiality, and Covid cleaning schedules and distancing in the waiting areas are also important.”
Dr Zabeth adds: “It’s also important that the doctor takes a detailed history on the first visit, which will include the patient’s past and present medical conditions, a list of medications and a history of allergies and family history.”
Devinder Bains is journalist of 20 years, working as a writer and editor on some of the biggest national magazines, newspapers and online publications in the UK and the Middle East. She specialises in women’s empowerment, fashion, race, culture and travel, and as a qualified personal trainer and nutrition coach, she is an expert in health and fitness. She splits her time between freelance writing and running Fit Squad DXB – Dubai’s largest personal training and wellness company.