Sometimes I hear the words coming in but they don’t make sense. I know I need to focus, to pay attention, to process what my doctor is telling me. But it seems like sometimes, even the best of doctors are speaking a foreign language. If you have trouble communicating with your doctor or if you do not have an open and trusting relationship with them, then it can be impossible to be your own advocate. In addition, it can make asking questions or getting the correct treatment extremely difficult. I’ve had my fair share of experiences with doctors that I didn’t feel as if we had a strong relationship. In my experience, this not only made me uncomfortable, but I believe it hindered me from receiving the best care possible. In addition, it made it very difficult to make an informed decision or advocate for my own care.
Things that hold me back from developing a good relationship with my doctor
- Fears of being “labeled” a pill-seeker. Being honest, I believe this is a fear of many people with psoriatic arthritis, or chronic pain of any kind. With the current trends in social drug abuse, I believe this fear is well founded. Because of this, I tend to downplay my pain levels and shy away from (sometimes much needed) pain medicine, so as not to be labeled as such.
- Appearing to be “crazy” or a hypochondriac. It took me a while to even convince myself that something was going on, much less anyone else. No one wants their doctor to think that they are complaining about “nothing” or seeking help for problems that don’t actually exist.
- Lack of time allotted for appointments. Doctors’ schedules are tight. They only get so much time for each appointment. Add to the fact that most charting is done electronically these days, a great deal of appointment time is spent updating information in the chart and, in my experience, not being able to give full attention to a patient.
- Not being able to put into the right words what is going on. Pain can be difficult to explain. Symptoms can be confusing. Dates can run together. For all these reasons, it can be difficult to fully explain my concerns to my doctors. Sometimes I struggle to accurately explain what I deal with on a daily basis, making it difficult for my doctor to get a clear picture of what is going on.
- A history of poor relationships with doctors or a history of seeing doctors that you feel haven’t been able to help. My history with previous doctors plays a key role in developing a good relationship with my current doctor. Like any relationship, I bring my past experiences, good or bad, with me to every doctor appointment. I try to keep in mind that every doctor, and indeed every appointment, is different. Just because one experience went one wrong, it doesn’t mean that all will be that way.
How I develop an open and honest relationship with my doctor
- Respect the Degree– Doctors work hard and gain a great deal of experience in the time it takes to earn their degree and set up their practice. I know that living with my disease gives me unique insight. In addition, I have a wealth of (possible) information at my fingertips. However, I try and remember that doctors are experts in their field for a reason. It is easy for me to be too close to the situation to know all of my options and it is good to have the experience and advice of a trusted professional.
- Be honest- I have found that downplaying my symptoms, or minimizing my concerns only fosters unnecessary resentment at not being taken seriously. Be open and honest about what is going on, even if it is embarrassing or your doctor will be unable to help you.
- Use the time you have wisely-You only have a little time with your doctor. I often write down the things that I feel are the most important to talk about so that I don’t get too far off topic or forget to say what I would like to say.
- Check for understanding or restate– To make sure that we both understand what is being said, I tend to restate what I think I heard, just to make sure that I know what is going on.
- Remember, doctors are people too- Just like us, doctors have a great deal of demands on their time. I try and remember they can get overwhelmed just like me. They can make mistakes just like me. They can have a bad day, just like me.
I try and remind myself to approach each appointment with the right mindset and hope to foster a positive and open relationship with my rheumatologist. What tips do you have for developing this very important relationship?