By Gretchen Wehmhoff

Anyone who has lived with any chronic health issue understands the stress of changing doctors. When I was young, my parents advocated for my care. When I left the state to attend college, we worked with my pediatrician to find medical care in the city I would be living in. Returning home at 22, it took two tries to find someone I could work with.  

It’s a big deal. 

Any profession has a need for a fit. We all have teachers we loved, and those we tolerated. We know what businesses make us feel comfortable and which don’t. But finding a new doctor or dealing with a doc in the ER that refuses to recognize the experience and knowledge of a patient is stressful. In fact, very few things can be as stressful as seeking new medical care on your own. 

For over 40 years I had the same doctor. We understood how to communicate with each other. For 40 years I knew that as I dealt with different specialists or pharmacies, my doctor had my back. My doc was also my parents’ doctor, something I appreciated as I assisted them in their older years. He was part of what kept me sane. He was a highly significant part of my life.

Dogs die too soon, hairdressers move and doctors retire. Those are tough facts of life.

When my doctor retired, it was unsettling. He had introduced me to other professionals, but it was still scary. We had established a rapport  years ago and, quite frankly, we had been through a lot. I had his cell phone number.

So I discovered that the only thing scarier than trying to find a new doctor was trying to find a new doctor when you are older.  

Suddenly a severe sense of vulnerability overcame me. What if the new doc doesn’t like my treatment, what if they aren’t as accessible or responsive? What if I have to wait months to see them? 

What happens next year when I turn 65?

I remember volunteering with the Office of the Long Term Care Ombudsman’s office. I met people who depended on their caregivers, their social security and their medical care. The biggest fear I witnessed when working with vulnerable seniors was their fear of being thrown to the curb, losing their home, losing their advocate.  

So I had to take a leap and once again advocate for myself with a new doctor. It was a bit stressful, but so far it has worked out. We’ve had to negotiate a few things, but we came to agreements. When accessibility and responsiveness became an issue, we came up with a work-a-round. And the best part, when I turn 65, he will take Medicare – and he will most likely outlive me.

Change is unnerving. And the fears involved are real. Change involving medical care can be frightening at an even higher level as folks face how vulnerable they can become as they age.

Whether change occurs slowly or quickly, those advocating for change need to be hyper-aware of what makes people hesitant and address those concerns with compassion. Hesitations may be grounded in real situations and substantial fears. What made a difference for me was that I was able to retain some sort of control of my medical future.  

It all came down to asking questions, being very clear about my needs and  receiving sincere and compassionate answers.