Sometimes, no matter how hard I have tried, I found that I had some concerns about my doctor. There have been times when I felt my questions weren’t being answered or I wasn’t being “heard” by my doctor. I remember one doctor in particular, just before my diagnosis, where I felt like I was being very open and cooperative with her diagnostic process but that she wasn’t really listening to what I was trying to tell her. After seeing her on three separate occasions I felt that I had done all I could do to foster an open relationship, but to no avail.
Is listening important?
What if your doctor is very good – experienced, reputable, skilled – does it really matter that they listen? In my experience, absolutely. If I don’t feel like I have been heard by my doctor, then I am afraid that I may end up incorrectly diagnosed, or not have the correct tests ordered for the symptoms that I am experiencing.
What can you do when you don’t feel like you are being heard?
Try questions- Instead of rattling off a laundry list of complaints, try asking a question. “How much can I expect this medicine to help me?” “What can I realistically expect?” This will help your doctor focus on you instead of getting through their overwhelming list of things to do.
Restate what you heard– Sometimes, at the doctor, I get so focused on conveying my question, my thoughts, my concerns, that I also forget to listen. Other times, I misinterpret what my doctor is trying to tell me. I have found that it is always worth the time and effort to use the phrase, “So what you are saying is…” Or I will restate what I understand to be the plan for my care. That way, if I didn’t correctly understand what the doctor was saying then any misunderstandings can be cleared up.
Ask for a double slot or consultation appointment-Depending on what part of the world you live in, you might be able to request a double appointment at the time your appointment is made. If you do run out of time and really feel as if you didn’t get your questions or concerns addressed, ask about the best way to contact them if you have questions before your next visit. I have found that some doctors are happy to accept questions through their nurse, others use electronic messaging systems like MyChart, or even email.
When should you find another doctor?
Like any good relationship, communication is key. If you have tried your best to make communication a two-way street, you have done your best to be a “good” patient, and you still feel like your doctor just isn’t working out for you, then you need to know when it is time to look elsewhere.
The three date rule
In my experience, I have found the “3 Date Rule” to be very effective. I give my doctor 3 appointments to decide if they are the right doctor for me. Everyone has bad days, limiting your decision to one appointment would give you an incomplete picture about your relationship with your doctor. It is possible that they were just having a bad day, were overbooked, or distracted for another reason. Three appointments allow the doctor to run tests, process the results, and meet with you for a follow-up and recommendations. If after that, you are unhappy it is my experience that at that time, you may want to consider a second opinion.
I know, not everyone has the luxury of choice when it comes to their rheumatologist. You may live in a small town with only one or two options. Some people may have a health care system that doesn’t allow for choice. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a victim of poor care your whole life. Accept your options and work hard to foster open and honest communication with your doctor so you both can make the best decisions, after all your health is at stake and it is worth your while to make the best of a very difficult situation.