A few weeks ago, a newly pregnant acquaintance approached me to ask my professional opinion of her obstetrician. “So Robyn, you are in the baby business. I just switched to Dr. X. What do you think of her?”

I stammered out a brief and rather evasive answer, hoping my tone did not convey my dislike for her new provider. It isn’t that this physician is unskilled or unsafe, but her beside manner is rather rude and dismissive. She’s nasty and demeaning to her colleagues and co-workers.

I didn’t feel comfortable expressing this when I was asked my opinion. I did not want to seem petty, or damage the relationship my acquaintance and this provider might have established.

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If it had been a close friend inquiring, I might have been more forthcoming with my feelings, and the justification behind my attitude. But honestly, it is always difficult to remain professional when you are asked about a provider you don’t respect.

I find it much easier when friends ask me to specifically recommend a good OB/GYN or midwife. I am honored to work with some of the best providers around, so I can easily and comfortably refer them to someone in my practice. I also refer friends to my own midwife all the time, despite the fact that she is “the competition,” and not part of my practice.

But what is the best way to answer a direct question about another practitioner that you do not respect? I hate to impose my personal opinion on anyone, since different people mesh well with different personalities and styles of care. On the other hand, I’d want to know the “inside scoop” if I were the one asking. 

Many years ago, I worked with a doctor who was a wonderful surgeon, but had a nasty habit of sexually harassing nurses. I found it difficult to praise his surgical skills when I knew what a jerk he was. But when it really came down to quality medical care, were his lecherous habits pertinent to potential patients?

This becomes even more complicated if there is any question of the provider’s competence or skill. Is this appropriate information to share with an inquiring friend? What if the provider in question is one of your practice partners?

Is it best to have a policy of not discussing other providers at all? Should we allow people form their own opinions and have their own experiences? Which is the more ethical way to go?

How would you handle a situation like this? Send you’re comments to [email protected], or submit them here. We’ll publish the best responses in the Advisor Forum.

Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.