India@75: A nation in the making

How to Spot a Good Doctor

Just seniority or fame is not necessarily proof of competence

Published: Apr 8, 2011 06:35:31 AM IST
Updated: Apr 8, 2011 08:13:58 AM IST
How to Spot a Good Doctor
Image: Vidyanand Kamat

Something has been bothering me lately. A friend of mine was recently hospitalised at a famous metro hospital. There he went under the care of a hot shot doctor — highly educated, widely published, senior in his department and an obvious choice as anybody’s doctor. Catch was the doctor lacked compassion. “There are only three qualities every good doctor should have,” my wise neurosurgeon father says, “knowledge, clinical skills and a lot of compassion.” The good news is there are many such doctors out there; here are some hard-earned tips on how to spot them.

Make Friends with Insiders
When I want to assess the skills of a surgeon, I ask an anaesthesiologist, operating theatre technician or resident physician; i.e., insiders who have seen the surgeon operate and can assess confidence, dexterity and outcomes.   

An important corollary is not to put too much weight on recommendations from people who are not insiders. When a journalist quotes a doctor in a story, it is not an endorsement that the doctor is ‘good’. A patient who has undergone medical care with a particular physician naturally becomes an insider. However, the patient cannot comment on all those doctors who have not treated her.  

Learn What Matters

When you ask for suggestions on doctors, or are firsthand evaluating a doctor, you should know what will matter in your care. The number of operations a surgeon has performed matters.

But if you go by that alone, you may miss out on some brilliant young surgeons who will give you extra time and attention as well.   
It matters how well your doctor listens to you.  You can help by being concise and expediently arriving at your complaint. The diligence with which your doctor performs a physical exam on you also matters. Dr. Valentin Fuster of Mt. Sinai Medical Center, New York City, is one of the finest cardiologists I have observed. Before he asks a single question of a revisit patient, he will carefully listen to the heart to hear for himself what is going on. High-end investigations may follow, but only after he has formulated a differential diagnosis based on his own exam.

Know What to Ask
“How will we use the results of this test in the further management of my condition?” is a fair question before an extensive diagnostic test. Other good questions are what to expect during therapy, what are the risks involved, and what lifestyle changes may be required post treatment. The way a doctor answers these questions will give insight both to their knowledge and compassion.  

To conclude, remember the goodness trio: Knowledge, clinical skills and compassion. Observe, ask questions and use insiders. Once you know what you’re looking for, your job is nearly done!

Dr. Kumar, and our health team, can be contacted at

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(This story appears in the 22 April, 2011 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Ts Rangarajan

    One doctor told me that they are taught to remember 2 things while dealing with patients - Cure and Care. Depending upon the medical condition of the patient and available remedies, the proportion of Cure and Care vary. Doctors have to deal with both the mind and the brain of the patient at all times.

    on Apr 11, 2011
  • Saiprakash C

    It's really simple and very useful. I always do little study before approaching a doctor. Very recently, I had to identify a good Dentist in Chennai for Root Canal treatment to my MOM. I really found a good young doctor working for an University. It's really true that my MOM got good attention and time of the doctor. I strongly agree with Mr. Kumar,Precisely D = K C2, Doctor = Knowledge * Clinical skills * Compassion - SAIIITD Alumni

    on Apr 11, 2011
  • Jrk

    If I had that much time and patience, I would invest it in changing my lifestyle. Hopefully wouldn't require the doctor then...

    on Apr 11, 2011
  • Dr Rajat Chauhan

    Awesome article. The tricky part is that we are almost never taught 'compassion' in medical schools. It comes down to our bringing up.

    on Apr 11, 2011
  • Dr Pankaj N Surange

    Excellent article.

    on Apr 10, 2011