Do you sometimes feel like your doctor just isn’t listening to you or doesn’t have your best interests at heart? There is a perception that doctors are somehow greater than mere mortals. They are seen as infallible but that, of course, is not the truth.
Your relationship with your doctor is critical, whether you’re working to stay healthy or are fighting a disease like cancer. Communication is of the utmost importance when it comes to the people who oversee your wellbeing or are managing your treatment plan.
A trip to your doctor’s office can be stressful on the best of days. Most of us perform a checklist of things to take with us or questions we want to ask. Many of us have to wait days or weeks to even see a doctor. Specialists can take much longer, with waiting lists that can be several months long.
After signing in, you wait until someone calls and probably speak with a member of the office staff. He or she might ask for additional information and send you back to wait.
A while later, a member of the nursing staff will take your vitals and put you in a waiting room. It could take another 20 minutes or so before your doctor comes in to see you.
With the number of patients circulated through the average office, you may not even see an actual doctor. Physician’s assistants are taking the lead in many practices because there simply isn’t enough time for a doctor to actually see everyone.
Less critical cases like runny noses during allergy season or aches and pains during flu season are being shuttled off to an assistant who can comfort you and determine whether or not you’ll need a prescription or just rest and a hot cup of tea.
If you do manage to visit with your doctor in person during your appointment, plan on having his or her attention for 20 minutes (or much less) – the norm for approximately 82% of patients.
That isn’t much time to be seen and diagnosed. It certainly isn’t enough time to build any sort of open communication relationship with your doctor.
The doctor feels rushed with many more patients waiting and you feel rushed to describe your symptoms quickly. Schedules are tight and that can be frustrating. There are too many patients and not enough doctors, and if you’re limited by the doctors allowed on your insurance, it can result in a lot of people being assigned to the same practice.
Before you allow yourself to get caught up in the rush of modern medicine, and shuttled out before you know where things stand and that your doctor does as well, stop and breathe.
You have the right to feel as if your doctor is listening and your issues and questions are being addressed. At the end of the day, doctors are paid by each and every patient who walks through their practice door and those “customers” deserve to be heard. Most doctors are brought up in an education system built and funded by the pharmaceutical industry, so it’s important to know what your doctor believes is the best treatment and if there’s any conflict of interest.
Think about what your appointment costs either you or your insurance company and then calculate that by the number of minutes your time with your doctor lasted. Make your minutes count. If you walk out of the doctor’s office feeling as if your doctor didn’t hear what you had to say or feeling confused about your own medical situation, it is critical that you regain the control you must have in regards to your health.
Make another appointment if you have to or explain to the doctor that you’d like a few more minutes to ensure he or she understands the situation fully.
It’s your time. Make sure you use it wisely.
According to a poll of doctors, patients don’t always come prepared. Vague explanations, preferring chit chat over discussing actual symptoms, and not understanding a physician’s style of care can be roadblocks to effective treatment. Patients need to have a healthcare team in place before a problem occurs.
A survey of physicians was conducted in 2009 and doctor’s had many suggestions on how patients could help themselves receive better treatment.
#1. Develop a Relationship with Your Doctor
Don’t bounce around from practice to practice. Having a long-term relationship with your physician was found to be one of the most important factors in your health according to over 75% of doctors.
Patients that change practices often tend to have more health issues and end up spending more on their health than patients who stay with their doctor over time. Because they know you and know your health history, they can recognize when a new symptom may be a sign of a larger problem.
Remember that respect goes a long way. More than 70% of doctors noted on the survey that since opening their practices, respect received from their patients has gotten “much worse.” This may be largely in part to online self-diagnosis tools that make many patients feel as informed (or more so) than their doctor. Politeness is always a better way to communicate.
This goes both ways. A patient who feels respected, listened to, and has a doctor that understands their history typically rated their satisfaction highly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, take notes, and even question a doctor about a procedure or diagnosis. Doctors actually find this helpful and it shows you’re paying attention. They also know you’re taking an active role in your own health.
#2. Talk About Your Treatment Plan and Stick to It.
Doctors rated this as one of the biggest problems they have with patients. Non-compliance with a doctor’s suggestions and guidelines – and then not being honest about it – create huge problems for physicians. If you aren’t up front about taking their advice (or not taking it) they aren’t able to make a complete or accurate assessment of your health.
You can’t be a good patient without first mastering communication. Talk to your doctor before they prescribe treatment to make sure you find a plan that works for both of you. Discuss side effects or adverse reactions to a new drug or therapy and search for a new treatment plan instead of just quitting. Your doctor can’t help you if you aren’t honest about your commitment to the treatment plan, so make it a priority. A call to the office for advice is better than stopping your medications or treatment plan. This is actually dangerous in some cases. Remember, you’re supposed to be on the same team.
#3. Don’t Believe Everything You Read Online.
Many patients are going to do some form of research such as checking symptoms or looking up a medicine that’s been prescribed. Informed patients can be helpful to a physician. The problem occurs when a patient with an ingrown toenail shows up at the office convinced that they have gangrene and may have to amputate their toe. There is tons of bad information out there, and some of it can be hard to spot.
More than half of the physicians surveyed said that online research helps “very little” and in some cases creates more problems. It’s easy to let “Dr. Google” diagnose you before you’ve even seen a physician, but you’ll be researching with your own bias and virtually no experience in diagnostics. If you are seeing multiple ads for prescription medicines, you can bet that the website is sponsored by a pharmaceutical company that will skew their articles in their favor. When you find information that you believe is relevant, print out that specific item and take it with you to your appointment. There is an unbelievable amount of information online but you need to be sure that you’re getting the right information and interpreting it responsibly.
You are your best advocate. If you don’t think that you can speak up and make your doctor listen, you need to designate a willing friend or family member help get your questions and issues across.
Physicians are pressed for time, usually under great stress, and may need you to remind them to listen to you as a person instead of merely a human with a symptom they need to write a prescription to address. Doctors are people, too. Even they can forget that fact.
Frustration on both sides of the examination table can lead to poor communication and misunderstandings. Take a moment to center yourself, ask your doctor how they’re doing, and give them a moment to breathe as well. Look them in the eye. Be honest and sincere. Take notes. Show that you’re ready to build a long-lasting relationship with your doctor and you believe in working as a team. Doctors admit that this is when patients receive the best care. You can improve your level of care almost immediately by finding the right doctor and communicating openly and directly.