I have seen my share of doctors over the years and the majority of them have been worthless visits. But after so many years of doing the doctor shopping thing, I have become sort of numb to it and have learned not to get my hopes up before going in. I have been with the same family doctor now for over 7 years, which is a record for me, and I did find a good ME/CFS & FM doctor, I just can’t afford to see him more than once a year. My communication with doctors has also improved over the years and I think a lot of that has to do with age. When I was younger, I wasn’t as confident about my health issues and talking about them and I would let doctors intimidate me. I don’t let them intimidate me any longer.
It’s sad when patients in dire need of medical care don’t seek the proper medical attention. But because of how some doctors treat patients with “invisible” illnesses, the repeated poor experiences are what the patient focuses on more than their illness.
ProHealth recently conducted a survey where they asked:
Do you feel safe talking truthfully about your illness or symptoms with your doctor? If the answer was no, respondents were asked, Why not? The results?
Fifty-seven percent of those who responded said they did not feel safe a startling, albeit not entirely surprising, statistic. More than half of those answering the survey said they do not feel safe enough to be honest with their doctors about their illness. On the positive side, 43% are comfortable and feel safe being truthful with their doctors. But when you consider the fact that we are literally entrusting our lives to our doctors, the inability of so many to be honest with them is a serious concern.
Below are the top 10 reasons why patients don’t feel safe communicating truthfully with their doctor (in order of frequency):
- Doctor doesnt listen or care.
- Doctor attributes symptoms to depression or other psychological problems.
- Doctor doesnt understand or believe in my illness.
- Doctor doesnt believe me.
- Patient fears being labeled a complainer or hypochondriac.
- Doctor trivializes my symptoms.
- Patient fears being labeled a drug seeker.
- Too many symptoms; doctor doesnt want to deal with them all.
- Doctor is judgmental.
- Patient fears being marked by insurance companies.
Other reasons given were:
- Patient fears that medications will be taken away.
- Doctor tries to give too many medications.
- Doctor is tired of hearing complaints.
- Patient is in denial about illness.
- Patient fears more tests being done.
- Patient is embarrassed.
- Patient feels there is a lack of confidentiality.
As patients, however, we have to take responsibility for ourselves and instead of giving up altogether on our health care, we can do these things to help improve doctor/patient communications:
This is something that I am very passionate about – educating yourself about your illness(es). Stick to reliable Internet sources though if that is where you are getting your information.
Prepare for your appointment.
Doctors are very busy and while it is typical to feel that we should be the doctor’s most important priority they have hundreds of other patients who feel the same way. TYPE YOUR LIST! You want the doctor to spend as much time with you as possible focusing on you so you don’t want him/her trying to figure out your handwriting. So you can help your doctor to not rush as much through your appointment and give him the time to focus on you by having the following prepared when you walk in:
- Medications – Your list should include the medication name, both prescription and non-prescription, and this includes supplements, herbal remedies, inhalers and medicinal creams. On my list I have I also include the dosages of each and how many times per day I take each one.
- Symptoms – Your list should include all of the symptoms you experience on a regular basis. Describe the symptom clearly but try to keep it as brief as possible. Include when the symptom began, how often it occurs, and how it affects daily living. Describe the type of pain you experience (throbbing, stabbing, etc.), where you have pain and how often. Use the 0 – 10 pain scale to describe the severity of your pain. Don’t exaggerate your pain level, however. If you say on a scale of 0 – 10 your pain level is a 20 or something like that, the doctor will not take you seriously.
- Questions – List all of your questions in order of importance.
Sometimes people who are chronically ill will develop the habit of speaking in a whimpering, whiney voice without even realizing it. Unfortunately, no one likes to listen to whining. If you have children, you know how irritating it can be when they whine. Instead of causing you to want to do what they are asking, it only makes you want to get away from them. When adults whine, we tend to consider them less credible. If you have any doubts as to whether or not you sound whiney, ask a family member or friend who will be honest with you. Practice explaining your symptoms in a calm, rational voice.
Leave the chip on your shoulder at the door.
Hey, I know how it is. I’ve had to take mine off a few times as well. Taking a Youd better do what I want or else approach will only cause your doctor to become defensive and label you a troublemaker. Although you have the right to be listened to and treated with respect, you cant demand respect. The more antagonistic your attitude, the less likely it is that doctor will listen to you or take you seriously. Try to give your doctor the benefit of the doubt and communicate in a calm rational tone.
Have realistic expectations.
With illnesses like ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia and IC Disease, you can’t expect to walk into a doctor’s office, get a couple of pills and expect to be cured. This isn’t Kansas, you don’t have red ruby slippers and you have to face that these illnesses are very difficult and there is no cure yet.
One common mistake I have seen many patients make is that they will start on the medication(s) they are given by a new doctor, and if they don’t feel better in a few days they stop taking them and label the doctor a “quack”. These illnesses are too complicated for a quick symptom fix and it usually takes time and trial and error with different medications before the right combination is found.
Think like a consumer.
As patients we are consumers and we are paying a doctor to give us results. You wouldn’t continue to go to a mechanic that didn’t fix your car right and we shouldn’t do that with our doctors either.
Here is another great article you can read on doctor/patient relationships:
10 Signs It’s Time to Find a New Doctor
michal haran says
I really enjoyed reading what you wrote. as being on “both sides of the fence” .(I am a senior hematologist, but also have had the “oppurtunity” to explore in depth many aspects of the physician patient-relationship, due to the fact that I was extremely “fotunate” to have a very rare illness, that did not fit any “box”, until I nearly died.)
I sadly realized that being a highly respected colleague did not protect me from any of those things that you describe so nicely. and that made me understand that my colleagues (and possibly me?) are not aware of what we are doing to our patients! (the same physician, that made me feel so humiliated in his office, called me the next day, consulting me on a mutual patient and treating me with the same respect as before. )
I would love to discuss those issues with you and think what can we do to change matters.
appreciate the info guys, thanks