Most people think they have a general idea of what a “good” doctor should do or have not given the idea much thought. If you are looking for a new physician or require a specialist then you may have more questions about what you should be looking for in a medical provider. Knowing qualities of a great doctor can help you ensure that you and your family get the care that you need without unnecessary worries.
Essential Qualities of a Good Doctor
1. Knowledge and Professionalism
A good doctor needs to know how your whole body functions as a unit and what you should do to maintain your overall health. They should stay informed of all the latest breakthroughs in the field and communicate their knowledge in a way that makes it easy to understand. Offering a wide range of information and clearly stating why they believe a certain type of medical care is beneficial will make it easier for patients to follow this advice correctly and trust their doctor if there is a problem.
2. Good Reputation
Doctors are often chosen by word of mouth, but it is important to consider your sources when finding a new doctor. Ask a variety of people and see which name continuously pops up. Asking your primary care doctor about specialists or others in the area can also help you find good advice. Today, many go online to seek out reviews for new doctors but this can be biased. Look for consistency in the comments, both positive and negative, to get a clearer picture of what a doctor is like.
3. Strong Credentials
A diploma from a good school or other credentials does not necessarily mean a doctor provides quality care, but this can be a great place to start. If your doctor does not have the credentialsor strong affiliations in the field this should be a warning sign. Check to ensure your doctor has met all licensing requirements and is board certified. Knowing what hospital they are affiliated with or the credentials others in their practice hold can help you get a feel for the level of care you will receive when you require additional treatment.
3. Sincere and Empathetic
Your doctor’s bedside manner will make you feel more comfortable during appointments. You want to feel as though your doctor genuinely cares so that you and your family can share questions or concerns openly. If you are not connecting with a doctor on an emotional level there is no harm in finding someone new. Look for someone that is warm and attentive, encouraging their patients to speak openly. Your doctor should also explain what they are doing and why to put you at ease and make it easier to follow treatments properly.
This is one of the most important qualities of a good doctor. Some doctors focus on seeing as many patients as possible during the day which means they will rush appointments and caregiving decisions. If you notice a long line in the waiting room or your doctor scheduling a lot of patients in a day it may not be the best circumstance for your health. You want to focus on finding a doctor that is patient and willing to answer questions and provide quality time with their patients. If a diagnosis is rushed, it could lead to a patient getting incorrect care for their symptoms.
5. Open and Responsive
A good doctor should listen to what you have to say and respond to you carefully. It is not simply a matter of making an accurate diagnosis, but letting the patient know that the doctor has listened to their concerns and is offering a response that is most appropriate for your unique situation. If you have strong opinions on medical issues such as vaccines, sleep schedules or similar activities your doctor should take your concerns into account. However, if there is strong medical knowledge that indicates your views are unsafe they should inform you of these concerns.
6. Strong Communication Skills
Communication is key for any physician, which includes both listening to the patient and providing information in a way that it can clearly be understood. Patients that are able to understand their doctors will be more likely to manage their treatment properly and reveal additional health problems they may be experiencing. This will help doctors understand unhealthy patterns the patient may be experiencing and intercept them to ensure that treatments will be effective.
7. Easy to Reach
This is another important quality of a good doctor. You should be aware of your doctor’s office hours and how you can contact them in the event of an emergency. All phone calls should be returned promptly and it should be easy to make appointments or cancellations as they are necessary. Check to see if your doctor keeps appointments open for emergencies and how they handle their on-call policy in the event of an emergency. Also check to see if your doctor’s staff is known for being on time and performing their tasks with the same efficiency.
8. Respect for Your Schedule
When you make an appointment you should not have to wait for a long period of time before you are seen. There will always be some wait and there will be circumstances where a doctor has to handle an emergency which cannot be accounted for, but if your doctor is consistently late or rushing through appointments this can result in inadequate care. A good doctor’s office will be able to inform you the approximate wait time for your appointment when you arrive.
A mistake in the medical field can have disastrous results. It is important to know that your doctor has not overlooked a part of your care which could lead to an inaccurate diagnosis. A good doctor needs to pay careful attention to their patients, schedules appropriate follow-ups and take the time to administer whatever care is most appropriate. Taking the extra time to perform these steps can prevent additional discomfort or ailments which could necessitate additional visits.
The following video can show you more qualities of a good doctor and what to look for:
What makes a good doctor?
On another occasion, I was in a meeting with Dr. Martin Black, who was at the time CGH’s Vice President of Medical Affairs. Dr. Black was a cardiologist, like Dr. Wasserman. Dr. Wasserman knocked on the door and interrupted our meeting with a quick question. Had Dr. Black, he wanted to know, had a chance to review the EKG tracing that he, Dr. Wasserman, left for him? “I’ll get back to you later today,” Dr. Black said and, after Dr. Wasserman left the room, he winked at me.
Dr. Black lifted from his desk the EKG that Dr. Wasserman had mentioned. It was clipped to a reprint of a medical journal article. “Dr. Wasserman doesn’t know it,” Dr. Black said with mischief in his eye, “but I wrote a paper on this exact EKG abnormality years ago.” Dr. Wasserman had left the EKG strip to challenge Dr. Black, the senior doctor, in identifying an interesting problem. Dr. Black was gleefully planning to one-up Dr. Wasserman by giving him the medical paper he had written on the subject.
As a lay person, I was impressed by the conversations Dr. Wasserman held with Dr. Black and with Dr. Prior. His interest in medicine was earnest, and it was obvious that the more senior members of the Medical Staff appreciated his enthusiasm.
Today Dr. Wasserman is President of the Medical Staff, and he recently addressed the Quality Committee of the Board of Directors. “What makes a good doctor?” he asked rhetorically, then he answered the question by reading from a short piece he had written. Dr. Wasserman listed 22 attributes of “a good doctor.”
“A good physician talks to the patient and not at the patient,” he said, and, “A good physician searches at all times for new clues to confirm or refute an initial clinical diagnosis.” Dr. Wasserman continued, “A good physician performs specific tests to achieve specific goals (avoiding a shotgun approach…).”
“A good physician is an educator,” he said. “No one can know it all in medicine,” Dr. Wasserman observed. “A good doctor learns by study, and also by observing and learning from his or her peers.”
Dr. Wasserman’s short essay put into words the intellectual eagerness and honesty I had observed decades earlier. It is a thoughtful thing to do, to reflect on your own profession and to list the things that make you and others better at your daily work.
I asked Dr. Wasserman to share his “good doctor” list with the members of the Medical Executive Committee, and he did so at its next meeting. After that meeting, Dr. David Halleran told me that Dr. Wasserman’s thoughts reminded him of a new book by Dr. Jerome Groopman, How Doctors Think. He said the book discusses “how to avoid certain mental errors a doctor can make.”
Dr. Groopman is a Harvard University professor and researcher. It is essential, Dr. Groopman writes, “for even the most astute doctor to doubt his thinking, to repeatedly factor into the analysis the possibility that he is wrong.”
In his work Dr. Groopman recounts clinical cases where it took a long time, and sometimes required several different physicians, to make a correct diagnosis. He writes about thinking errors that doctors – or indeed, anyone – can make. It is only by being aware of the possibility of such errors that one can take steps to prevent them or discover and correct them if they have occurred.
Doctors are always reading, learning, attending lectures and classes. They practice new skills, and they help each other learn skills by proctoring one another. But the thing that strikes me about Dr. Wasserman’s thoughts and about Dr. Groopman’s book is their self-awareness. Knowledge is not always about things outside oneself. There is also knowledge of how one thinks and works. This self-knowledge can help one do a better job. It can help avoid falling into inadvertent error.
Years ago when he challenged Dr. Black to identify the abnormal EKG strip, Dr. Wasserman was keeping his thinking skills at a high level. A few weeks ago, when he sat with a yellow pad and reflected upon what it means to be a good doctor, he was keeping his practice skills at a high level.
“These are just some of my thoughts regarding the qualities of a good physician,” Dr. Wasserman told the Medical Executive Committee at the end of his brief essay. “If everyone applies these principles, Community General Hospital, and all out practices and patients will benefit.”
 Dr. Wasserman wrote to me: “I actually wrote this ‘What makes a Good Doctor’ document after Dr. [Thomas] LaClair [Chair of Family Medicine] and myself had a discussion regarding what he and I could communicate to the FP (Family Practice) residents regarding the qualities of a good physician.”
 Dr. Groopman holds the Dina and Raphael Recanati Chair of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and is chief of experimental medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston.
] Groopman, p. 9