The Number 1 Mistake You’re Making With Your Doctor
Are you a doctor’s pet?
Do you have teacher’s pet syndrome when it comes to talking to your doctor?
Do you tell your Doctor everything is ‘fine’ and then remember 14 things you could have asked about once you leave?
Do you hold back from saying things because you want to show up as healthy, fine, not needing any help?
Chances are that if you do this in your doctor’s office, you do it in life too. I was always the one that was relieved when that one student raised their hand during class to ask a question that I wanted to know the answer to as well. I didn’t dare ask myself if I deemed it to be ‘unworthy’ or not clever enough. I wanted everyone to think all the time that I understood. I needed to not need people. I can fix it, read it, figure it out myself.
This has played out well for me in terms of learning languages. Sometimes, I pretend I understand just to keep the conversation going. Forcing myself to bumble through it has made my language skills stronger and allowed me to learn two impossible languages in the past 10 years.
That being said this isn’t the best method for taking care of your health, or your life.
Doctors, among my patients, generally have a bad rap. By the time you come to see me in my office, or have an online consult, you are supremely annoyed at the medical system. I get it. Your biggest frustrations are that your doctor doesn’t really listen to you. She/he doesn’t seem to understand that your problem is a problem and actually affects your life. You get brushed off after a certain number of exams and you know they don’t know what’s wrong with you but they won’t tell you that.
The question I would like to pose to you today is: is it only the doctors fault?
From the other side of the patient / physician table, I can tell you that most often you are trying to convince us of two things simultaneously. 1. You need help and are in discomfort. 2. You are really fine, it’s not that bad and you’ll live with it if you have to, as long as it’s ‘nothing serious’. (In my book, if it’s causing you to adjust your life in any way, it’s serious and deserves attention.)
I see this being more true for women than for men. I often need to encourage patients and clients to tell me the truth about how / what they are feeling – being so unaccustomed to being listened to and heard leaves you diminishing your symptoms before you even really mention them.
And then there’s that whole ‘smart woman / good girl / teacher’s pet’ syndrome. You want your doctor to like and respect you and you’ve convinced yourself that somehow she/he will look down on you for having this problem. You’re smart enough to take care of yourself. Why should this problem happen to you? You feel embarrassed, so you lie. Just a little. Just enough to allow the energy of doubt to creep into the doctor’s mind and take you less seriously. Just enough to make your problem seem like.. well.. not much of a problem.
I have the amazing benefit in my practice of having the time to listen to you. Doctors, even if they hear this doubt in your voice, will move right over it because they have 45 patients today and don’t have time for doubts. They want the info, straight and direct and most of the time, you aren’t great at giving it to them.
Here’s my advice to combat doctor’s pet syndrome and to help you be heard and get the care you need.
- Keep track of your symptoms. Make a simple spreadsheet in Google sheets.
(Feel free to use this one that I made up for you 🙂)
Don’t be obsessive – research shows that paying too much attention to your symptoms makes them worse and encourages them to repeat themselves even when it’s physically not needed. Simply make notes of things as they come up.
Knowing what is going on allows you to adjust as you go, thus decreasing the need to see your doctor. It also makes you realize when it might be time to see a doctor if you haven’t been paying attention.
Another great reason to pay attention is that when you speak to your doctor in specifics, they have less assumptions to make and more facts to work on. This makes their job much much easier.
- Before going to your doctor, look at the spreadsheet and look for any repeating symptoms. Make a handwritten note of the ones you noticed and take it to your next doctor’s appointment. If you have a symptom that repeats often, be sure to include the dates. Knowing the dates automatically means to the doctor that you are paying attention – which encourages them to pay attention as well.
Think about this – you have frequent headaches and you tell the doctor that. Frequent headaches is totally arbitrary. But.. if you tell the doctor, I’ve had a headache 5 out of 7 days of the week for the past month, you’re talking concrete examples that the doctor can imagine.
- Push yourself to ask about one weird or uncomfortable topic at each appointment. Keep in mind that we’ve heard it all before. Nothing you can say will actually make us think you are weird. Someone raised their hand and asked that question already, no embarrassment necessary. By pushing the boundaries, you let your doc know that you are interested in your health, willing to take notice and willing to learn.
- If you have test results that don’t show anything and you’re sure something isn’t quite right – PUSH for more testing. Get as many things done as you need to give yourself peace of mind. If the doctor isn’t listening you to, say so. This is a good script, if you need one:
“I’m not feeling heard right now. I understand that what insurance will cover is often a guide to how tests are chosen but the tests we’ve done so far come up inconclusive. What other exams do you recommend, if my case were a total outlier? I am willing to put up with the time inconvenience of getting them done for the sake of my physical and mental health, I just need to be guided as to what might possibly be useful. I want to feel absolutely confident that we are being 100% proactive.”
And if they still don’t listen, you’ve done an amazing job. Go get a new doctor. 🙂
I hope that helps. I feel like patient advocacy is something that I’d be great at in a different lifetime. If you still struggle with this, find a patient advocate in your area to help you hash out your options. You deserve to feel safe and confident when talking with your doctor.
And, no more playing Doctor’s Pet!