Picking a doctor is not like choosing an ice cream flavor. But it’s not like betting on a sports game either. When we set about choosing a physician (or whoever else, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant, who might act as our primary care provider), our personal preferences certainly come into play. We might want as our doctor a man or a woman, someone convenient by bus, someone younger or older. Some people, like it or not, prefer their doctor to be of a certain race - just like doctors treat their patients differently based on race. This is of course not my ideal but the fact of the matter. Even if we only have a limited choice of doctors covered by insurance, we might pick between the two or three available based solely on whim.
But what if we wanted to pick the best doctor available, the professional who is most likely to make us feel better? There is a plethora of information available online that purports to answer that question, from a simple Google of the doctor’s name to a search in Physician Compare (the national database of doctors that accept Medicare), to records of physicians’ prescription practices. Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to link up this dense network of statistics to the results that actually matter to us: our health, happiness, satisfaction, and emotional needs, all of which we would like to see satisfied when we see our new doctor. There is no magic formula to predict which doctor is most likely to work well with you, the acolytes of Big Data and electronic medicine notwithstanding.
That is why choosing a doctor isn’t like placing a bet: we might not be sure if we made the right choice even when we meet them for the first time. As in other relationships, the connection with our doctor (or nurse, or whoever) might take time to develop. While available information might help us weed out the true duds, realizing that a particular doctor seems to be doing well by us might be more like finding a fine wine than picking a tasty ice cream flavor: an acquired taste.