Michael and Adrian Langford moved to Herndon, out near Dulles Airport, in September 1984 with their 8-month-old pride and joy, David. Adrian set out to look for a new pediatrician and obstetrician.
She had grown up in something of a medical atmosphere. Her father worked closely with physicians, so she knew from the stories he told that there are good doctors and bad. She knew, too, that patient and doctor have to make a good match. I may hit it off fine with Dr. A, you may not.
She was determined to make a careful search. She did think -- in many cases unrealistically -- that doctors wouldn't charge for an "introductory" interview from someone just shopping for a doctor. She found that none of the pediatricians she called but all of the obstetricians did charge. I'd say they are entitled to, though we patients always hope all doctors will be fair and reasonable in their charges. That hope can be unrealistic, too.
Adrian's first priority was a doctor for David. That took three tries, she reports now. Or four, counting a phone call to "a guy who was full up -- he wouldn't take any new patients."
"So," she says, "I asked moms around here, and I'd had good experiences with women doctors, so I decided I'd try a woman pediatrician. I saw her, and she treated David for a lingering ear infection. She was nice, but I didn't feel she was tuned in to the child or me."
David still needed treatment. Adrian tried another woman pediatrician, "but his ear still didn't respond, and finally I felt she thought I was just a mom running to her every other day. And every time she came in the room David would scream. I gave up on her, too."
Now, "We're seeing another pediatrician, and that's working out. The first time I saw him we chatted for 30 minutes" -- without charge -- "and he talked about everything. His attitude, how he wanted to work with the parents.
"I feel real good about him, though sometimes we have to wait a long time to see him. It's because he devotes whatever it takes to each patient. He always gives 200 percent."
She also wanted to find an obstetrician, and again "I wanted to make some comparisons. I wanted the right one for me."
And again, that took three tries, plus several phone calls.
"I phoned the first one and said I was looking for a doctor and I'd like to come in just for an interview. When I got to the office, they insisted I fill out a form so I'd be in their computer. Then he did talk to me for about 45 minutes -- how he did his checkups, which hospital he used and why. But I wasn't sure he was quite right for me. Then I was surprised to get a $40 bill. I'd had no idea I'd be billed."
She next tried Obstetrician No. 2. "I talked to him for 15 minutes, and he seemed very good. But I wasn't so happy with the way I was treated in his office." And that cost her $45.
"I also called Loudoun Hospital and asked for the head OB-GYN nurse and asked for a recommendation. She was nice, but she just listed their doctors and said they were all good.
"By this time I felt I needed a checkup, so I saw my third obstetrician. He was very nice and I felt I had a very good checkup, so I'd give him high marks . . .
"No, I haven't had to go back to him yet, and I'm not quite sure which doctor I'd go back to."
But now she knows at least one obstetrician she would feel comfortable with, though she's not sure she's through looking.
A fussy patient? Of course. Too fussy? I think most folks are too unfussy -- or too fearful and accepting -- rather than too fussy when seeking a doctor.
Mrs. Gordon Walsh of Lovettsville, Va. -- near Leesburg -- writes of trying to look up some doctors' credentials, whether they're "board-certified," for example. Board-certified physicians are listed in the Directory of Medical Specialists, found in some large public and university libraries and many medical libraries.
But Walsh writes that she could not find this directory at area libraries. The librarians told her it is too expensive. "Any suggestions for me?"
Most hospitals have libraries for staff use, and many have this directory and -- I would guess -- would not refuse a reasonable request to have a look at it. I'd phone the hospital's medical librarian and ask to come in and consult their directory, if they have it.
Also, most medical societies have this publication or equivalent information. Most will provide names of doctors who accept new patients and also tell callers whether or not any doctor is certified by his or her specialty board, whether for family practice, internal medicine, obstetrics-gynecology or any other field. Most doctors in private practice belong to their county or area (multi-county) medical society or state medical society, and most doctors' offices can provide these groups' phone numbers.
I talked to Mrs. Walsh and said that if she were still seeking a doctor, she should ask nurses or other staff members at any hospital for some recommendations. Many hospital staff members will make meaningful recommendations, not just list all their doctors.
"But they usually refer some young doctor just out of medical school," Walsh objected. "I wanted one more experienced."
I've seen studies indicating that the average young doctor -- generally a graduate of medical school and three years of hospital training -- is more likely than the average gray-haired doc to be up on "the latest." Don't scoff at young doctors.Next Week: The Dr. Donal M. Billig case and second opinions.