The advantages of keeping an open mind when meeting a new doctor

A columnist is pleasantly surprised by his new primary care physician

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by Robin stemple |

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An illustration of a blind man walking down a path with a cane. Floating musical notes follow him.

Having just moved to Pittsburgh from rural Somerset County, Pennsylvania, one of the many things I had to attend to was finding a new primary care physician.

Back in Somerset, there weren’t many choices. Around 2003, I started with a doctor who was fresh out of residency and didn’t have much experience yet. This was challenging as someone with facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD), a rare muscle disease, but I stuck it out. By the time I moved, one of my regrets was having to change doctors.

Shortly after settling in Pittsburgh, I requested a list of primary care physicians from my insurance provider. Despite a large number of choices, I knew I had to stay relatively close to home or face some real transportation challenges.

Pittsburgh’s accessible transportation system is set up in zones. Crossing from one zone to another requires a trip to the downtown hub, where you must transfer to a different van run by another transportation contractor.

The doubled cost was a bit of an issue. The larger issue for me as a blind wheelchair user was the possibility of getting lost in the shuffle and not making the transfers without incident. Frankly, another huge concern was the embarrassing possibility of not being able to find a restroom in a timely manner. At 65, I need to use the restroom much more frequently than I used to.

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I decided to contact a primary care practice just a few miles from my new home. Fortunately, they were accepting new patients, but I was assigned to another “fresh out of residency” doctor who had just joined the practice. Was I going to have to educate another provider about my health issues? Despite some reservations, I made an appointment for a “get acquainted” visit.

I thought things might move more quickly in Pittsburgh, but the earliest appointment I could get was a month out. I guess urban doctors are just as busy as country ones!

I got a stack of forms in the mail to complete before the visit. My wife, Wendy, gave me a hand getting them filled out and ready to take with me. I also completed a preregistration form online and did an electronic check-in the day before the appointment.

I tried to go into the exam room with an open mind, but I have to admit I had my reservations.

The moment of truth

Within a few minutes, my new primary care physician knocked on the door, came in, and introduced himself with a handshake. He let me know he was new to the practice. I shared that I was new to the city, having moved here to be closer to my kids and grandkids. He asked how many grandkids I had and shared that he was married with two toddlers of his own. I immediately felt like I was meeting a new friend, not just a medical practitioner!

He asked if I had any immediate health issues that needed attention. I discussed a couple chronic issues I deal with, and he checked them out. The doctor asked me about my medical history and listened attentively as I shared my experiences with FSHD, a car crash in 1989, blindness, and chronic pain.

He asked some questions for clarification. “Can I refer you to a neurologist?” “How do you feel about aqua therapy?” “Do you want to look at changing medications?” “It looks like you’re on track with vaccinations, but you’re 65 now. Can we give you a pneumonia shot today?”

I expected a five-minute appointment with a doctor focused on how quickly he could get me out the door. Instead, I got half an hour of conversation and examination. I expected a young, know-it-all doctor who needed some training. Instead, I met a friend who happened to be a doctor. He listened to what I had to say and discussed treatment options with me. He treated me as a person who is fully capable of making my own medical choices. As I left the office, I felt like I’d met a partner who would help me deal with my health issues.

When I was a special education teacher back in the Stone Age, there was a concept in vogue called TESA, an acronym for “teacher expectations and student achievement.” Put simply, many times in life you get what you expect to get. Thankfully, with my new primary care physician, I went in with an open mind and got much more than I expected!

Note: Muscular Dystrophy News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Muscular Dystrophy News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to muscular dystrophy.


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