As a woman living with a chronic illness, you are no stranger to the world of co-pays, prescriptions, and lab draws. What may be more confusing, however, is the maze of activity on the other side of your exam room. When you add to this the anxiety many feel in the medical environment, along with the hurried pace most physicians are required to keep, you may leave the office feeling frustrated.
When I was diagnosed with a chronic illness more than a decade ago, I found it a real challenge to get on the same page as my doctor, but I didn’t understand why I was having so much trouble. It was only after I was hired to work as a registered nurse in a physician’s office that I came to realize how easy it is to sabotage your relationship with your doctor and unintentionally end up on their “difficult patient” list.
Communication, respect, and trust are key in any healthy relationship, but especially when it comes to the one you have with your doctor. It is vital to your well-being and to your success in managing your chronic illness that you take an active role in your care. By doing so, not only will you feel more satisfied with your care provider, but you will also have a greater measure of control over your health.
Here are some things to watch for:
You miss your appointments altogether. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how easy it is for life to distract you, even when you’ve put it on your calendar. The resulting problems are not only short-term – it can often take weeks (or months) to reschedule, but also long-term – if you miss too many you can be fired from their practice for good.
To prevent that from happening, be sure to schedule your appointments well in advance so that you can arrange your affairs and request time off work if necessary. If you absolutely must cancel, be sure to give the office at least 24 hours’ notice.
You aren’t prepared for your visits and don’t use your time wisely. Time is at a premium in your doctor’s schedule. Even the most interested and engaged physicians are forced to schedule their patients in 15-minute intervals to keep up with the payment models and paperwork required by insurance companies. This doesn’t leave much time for actual conversation with each patient, despite their best intentions.
Instead, you have a responsibility in making the most of your face-to-face encounters. Most pros recommend sitting down ahead of time and writing a list of the symptoms you are experiencing, the medications you are currently taking, and the questions you would like to ask your doctor. This provides a helpful framework for your appointment so that you are both satisfied.
You aren’t honest with your doctor. Healthcare professionals are normal people – they drink alcohol, forget to take their medications, and eat junk food sometimes too, so there is no need to be ashamed. In fact, failing to disclose the truth about your health behaviors or lying to save face will ultimately do more harm than good. In some cases it can be downright dangerous.
For example, if your medication dosing isn’t reasonable for your lifestyle, rather than forgoing it altogether, your doctor may want to switch you to a newer formula that you can take less frequently. If you’re having trouble sticking to diet recommendations, they may be able to refer you to a support group. If you use recreational substances, they need to caution you about possible interactions with your prescriptions.
You aren’t consistent in following up with your doctor. It can be tempting to save a co-pay here and there when you are symptom-free. On the flip side, it can feel overwhelming to haul yourself to the office during a flare-up. Cancelling a follow-up appointment may not seem like a big deal, but you will miss out on important care and attention.
If you truly cannot afford to visit your doctor as frequently as he would like, make sure to find other ways to stay in contact. Most practices now have an online patient portal where you can access appointment reminders, review lab results, and message your care team. Even if it’s just a brief phone call, be sure to update them about any new symptoms you are having or adverse reactions to treatment. This way their clinical staff can assess whether it’s critical for you to be evaluated in person.
You don’t share the same health care philosophy. Just like any other relationship, chemistry plays a big part in your relationship with your doctor. While you may have big hopes in the beginning, over time you may find yourself disagreeing with your doctor on some major points like personal values, treatment goals, and lifestyle choices. When you are at a crossroads with the individual directing your medical care, it may be necessary to pursue other options.
You can always ask friends and family for referrals and prepare some interview questions for your first appointment. Ultimately, there is a balance between trusting your doctor’s professional expertise and following your own intuition when you are deciding if you will be a good fit. You both should feel respected and there should be an element of trust.
Remember: you know your body best. Your doctor is the expert on medicine and diagnosing disease, but you are the expert on YOU!
How would you describe your own relationship with your doctor? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below. Click here if you could use some support navigating your current physician-patient relationship.