When most people look for a doctor, they try to find someone close to their home or work, covered by their private insurance and perhaps recommended by others. I look for those things too, but what I really want — and have learned is frustratingly difficult to find — is a doctor who uses 21st century tools like, you know, email.
Photo by Angelica Alzona.
The day my husband's new primary doctor emailed him the first visit's summary report and the offer to discuss over email, I was floored. Doctors use email and actually let their patients email them questions? At the time, my primary care physician's office didn't even have a website, much less send emails or text messages.
Now when I look for a doctor, whether primary care, dentist, pediatrician, or an other specialist, I insist on finding one that uses modern technology, like online appointment scheduling and payments, digital X-rays, online access to health records, and the latest gear.
It's not just about convenience, although that's a big factor. Modern medical technology is about comfort and reduced stress too. Getting X-rays at the dentist, for example, has always been not just uncomfortable, but downright painful for me. (Apparently, I have a small mouth and highly sensitive gums — a bad combination for biting down on large, sharp plastic things.) I've switched dentist offices more times than I can count, just looking for one that sympathises with this pain, rather than simply seeing me as a "difficult" patient. By looking at dentists' websites and their photo galleries, I found an office that does panoramic X-rays: You just have to stand still while the X-ray machine rotates around you, no objects cutting into your gums. It's almost magical.
Similarly, I needed an MRI once to figure out why I was suddenly getting migraines. Not knowing anything about MRIs, I just went to the nearest place my doctor referred me to. They used the traditional machine — the kind that makes you feel like you're trapped in a noisy metal coffin. Had I done my research, I would have learned that there are newer alternatives, such as open MRIs and upright MRIs, and I could've saved myself that discomfort.
Modern technology can also make treatments safer. Dr. Rusty Hofmann writes on Grand Rounds:
While there is no industry-wide definition of state-of-the-art care, it can be loosely defined as innovative, cutting-edge, and often beyond "the norm" of traditional treatment. State-of-the-art care can be applied to technology, practices and physicians.
For example, a colleague of mine is the only one in the world who can remove an embedded inferior vena cava filter (a medical device inserted into the heart) via a laser. The alternative means of removing the filter is tricky and dangerous, and as such, people from all over the world are requesting his advice. He is providing state-of-the-art care.
Finding a good doctor is often a crapshoot on its own, so finding one with state-of-the-art tech is even harder. Usually I start my search for an up-to-date doctor by looking at their websites, checking out their office photos and any mentions of the technology they use, but this can be deceiving. I've been to dentists who promised that they use "pain free laser treatment" for the comfort of their patients only to find they still use the old torturous scraping tools. I've tried reading through doctor reviews but few ever mention the kind of equipment the doctors use.
My parents, who are both retired physicians, shared their tip with me for finding a leading doctor: Look for practitioners who are doing cutting-edge research. It's how they found a laser eye surgeon for me (the doctor was the principal investigator in numerous national trials involving my particular eye problem) and how they decided on the doctor who would perform my dad's heart surgery.
The easiest solution, however, that I've found is to check out large, reputable hospitals and their medical networks. Offices that are part of those networks are more likely to be embracing digital and new technology because they have the resources to do so. As Dr. Hofmann says:
If you receive a daunting diagnosis, look to larger and more reputable hospitals that have already acquired state-of-the-art care. For example, some of the larger and more reputable hospitals can afford the latest and greatest technologies, like an advanced MRI machine — often several years ahead of hospitals nearby. Actually, academic hospitals often partner with medical device companies to help co-develop new technologies.
Recently, I needed to get an X-ray and went to a facility I'd never been to before. All I had to do was sign in on a tablet, because my records and the doctor's prescription were already in the system. They even took my digital palmprint and a photo of me to ID me in the future (it does feel a little Big Brother-ish, but I also felt like I was living in the future). It was a time-saver and one less hassle to deal with when going to the doctor is already a hassle. And the next day I was able to log onto the medical center's website to read a message from my doctor.
Modern medical tech and tools don't necessarily mean better care, so your first priority is finding a doctor you trust and are comfortable with, who's sensitive to your needs, listens to you, and gives you treatment that actually makes you feel better. But take your search a step further and identify what is state-of-the-art for your particular health need. You might find an awesome doctor whose practice also isn't stuck in 1899.