how to hire [and fire!] your doctor- 4 tips on how to have the best relationship with your care provider!
I hear time and again how patients are frustrated with their doctors and how they wish their doctors knew more, listened more, cared more. But here’s the question that I want to pose to you- does your doctor know your expectations in your relationship with them? Are you being clear and honest from everything you are experiencing symptom wise, to all you are doing at home to help yourself? (Let’s be honest- fudging facts to doctors happens every day!) It is common to keep facts from our doctors during questioning because we don’t want them to think negatively of us.
I’d like to play the devil’s advocate today and side with the doctors. Did you know that the average appointment lasts less than 15 minutes? In that time, you are expected to share your problem, listen to the doctor’s explanation and diagnosis, and get instructions on how to fix it and be on your way. It’s maddening for the patient to wait around for those precious few minutes, and it’s frustrating for a tired, overwhelmed doctor to cram in all that education into 15 minutes before moving on to the next person waiting. on average, doctors see anywhere from 30-50 patients A DAY. Think about that for a second- it’s a tough job!
In my years as an autoimmune patient, I’ve picked up a few things that have made my relationships with my doctors so much better. You want to put together a care team that truly cares about you and your case, and forge relationships with your nurses, medical assistants and other personnel as well. This will only help you! It may seem pointless, but how can you expect them to care for you if you don’t get to know them as well? Let them see you for who you are, the kind of life you are living and I guarantee they will do everything they can to help you. That is why they went into the medical field in the first place!
My husband and I have had some experiences to illustrate this point. I’ll share one: five years ago, I was having trouble breathing and called my husband at work to tell him my hands and fingers were turning blue. I had been having trouble off and on for a few days but not this bad and I was scared. We went to the ER, and after waiting hours to be seen, a tired doctor dismissed me as having a panic attack and said he was going to take his nap. (Yes, he actually said that.) A panic attack lasting 8 hours? I don’t think so. I was frustrated, fighting tears at his coldness and still struggling to breathe as my husband helped me get dressed and we prepared to leave. While we were walking out of the ward, a nurse practitioner called my name and jogged up to us with my x rays and file in her hand. We had met her a couple times before and she had remembered me. She asked if she could examine me herself and took us to an empty bed. After doing her exam, she started tapping around on my chest and immediately I was in pain. She explained that she had seen my name on the ER patient board again and pulled my file because she had a theory and her exam that day confirmed it. I was having a swelling of my chest muscle wall because of a respiratory infection and the swelling was pressing on my lungs, making it hard for me to breathe. She did a swab, and sure enough it came back positive of a tricky bacteria. She wrote me a prescription for muscle relaxers and gave me a dose right then that helped within minutes.
I was so grateful she stopped us that day. The two other times I had been to the ER were for the same problem and both times I had come down with a respiratory infection soon after those visits. This chest wall swelling has happened several times since but I haven’t had to go back to the hospital because of it. I follow her instructions to the letter and they work every time. (Also finding out about that tricky bacteria would help dozens of times in the future- including my pregnancy, but that’s another story.) I share all of this with you because of this: when we thanked her for taking the time to check us out herself she smiled and said, “This is why I became a nurse. To help my patients. You’ve been in here before and you’ve always been sweet and kind even though I could tell you were hurting. I knew something was going on but not until today did I know I could help.” I will never forget those words.
Here are four things I have learned that enable me to have the best possible relationship with my care team:
1. Do your research. This one is on you. YOU have the power here! Always look up and check a doctor’s credentials, training and specialties before making an appointment with them. Look into their patient satisfaction rate, but with the knowledge that those aren’t facts, just opinions. Ask other doctors for their opinion of or experience with him/her.
If the doctor has their own website, thoroughly read it. It will give you a good idea of who they are, how they practice and help answer any questions you may have about their methodology.
Many doctors offices will also let you schedule a patient interview appointment with them before becoming a patient. Take advantage of that!0 it is a great way to meet them and see how comfortable you are with them! Think of it like this- you would vet your pediatrician choices before selecting one to care for your child wouldn’t you? Then why wouldn’t you do the same for yourself? Be courteous and appreciative of them making the time to see you. Have a list of questions ready. Keep your story short and concise so that they can get to know you as well and see what kind of struggle you are going through while still being respectful of their time. Find out if they have successfully treated patients like you before. Ask for references from those people if possible. Ask if they have any ideas of the bat from hearing your case that you haven’t tried before.
At the end of the interview, be clear about how you are feeling. Say, “I appreciate you taking the time to meet with me. I’d like some time to make my decision about becoming a patient of yours so I will call your office in a few days.” or, “I love that you have all the experience I think I need in my case. How do I make an appointment to establish care with you?” I can think of several times I have sat down with a new doctor only to know by the end of those few minutes that they weren’t going to be a good fit for me. You deserve to look forward to your appointments and your doctor’s insight, not dread every visit with them, or feel hopeless! More on this in the following points.
Remember, you are the patient, but you are also the driver. Doctors don’t heal disease, they enable your body to heal disease. You are in charge of who you trust to have that ability and knowledge into your life to help you make those medical decisions! It is your body, you 110% have a voice in what happens to it!
2. Be honest. If a chronic disease is taking over your life, chances are, you aren’t in that doctor’s office for fun. Every detail is important! If the medical assistant asks if you are still taking that prescription daily but you haven’t been, be honest. Say, “I have been forgetful of that lately. The last time i remember taking it was —-.” If the doctor asks if you have been trying that one suggestion they made recently that you just don’t want to do, be honest. Just say no! I can’t tell you how many times I or one of my clients has shared that one time, a breakthrough or diagnosis in their case came from a little detail that they didn’t think was important enough to share with the doctor. So please, do yourself a favor and be honest. It helps the doctor as well. We as patients should be helping our doctors to always have a clear grasp of our case to help them know what to try next. Keeping them in the dark or not trying their suggestions doesn’t help anyone and only leads to more frustration for both parties, and suffering for you.
3. Keep detailed notes. In an earlier post, I talked about making binders of all my health related info to keep myself organized and details straight. It has come in handy several times! Do the same for yourself- if you are supposed to be tracking blood sugar levels, or doing exercises, make yourself a folder and track each day and time that you do it. Bring this with you to your appointments. Doctors love this! It gives them a real view of your lifestyle, choices and dedication to your health. My neurologist in particular loves to see my notes. He says he wouldn’t have gone done the path he did in treating me if he hadn’t seen my 60 days of blood pressure and symptom notes I brought with me to my first appointment. [In reality, I was doing it to prove I knew something neurologically was wrong. Look how it helped me!] A simple few minutes a day saved me months of tests and questions, and who knows how much money.
4. Know when it is time to leave. Your relationship with your care team should be one of equal balance. It is a PARTNERSHIP. If you are willing to try anything at all to find a way to feel better, speak up! Voice that desire. If you are absolutely overwhelmed with the emotional upheaval your condition is causing you, say that too. A caring doctor won’t look down on your for being honest. If anything, it presents them with an opportunity to show empathy and compassion and opens the door for real, honest communication.
On the other hand, sometimes it just isn’t a good fit. If you are finding that it is time to move on, for whatever reason, go ahead. It is your right. Bottom line, you are the boss of your care team. If something isn’t working, speak up. Give a chance for it to be corrected. It may be that your team doesn’t know what else they can do beyond managing your symptoms anyway! Thank them graciously for all that they have done and tell them you have found a new avenue of treatment you would like to try. Leave with all your medical records from that office because you will need them in the future. Your health journey should always be moving forward, even if it’s at a snail’s pace. The more serious you take your health, the more your team will want to help you.
The autoimmune/chronic disease world is full of so many questions and uncertainty. Let’s not add more to it that doesn’t have to be there!
How is your relationship with your care team? Did you find this post helpful? How can I help you get the best quality care? I would love to hear your thoughts.