To Doctor, From Patient

As I mentioned in a post a while back, I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease a little over a year ago (Click here for more information about Lyme Disease, it’s causes, and symptoms).  Over the years, I have also watched several of my family members deal with illness, broken bones, and the like.  To put it mildly, doctor’s offices are not an entirely unfamiliar place for me.  However, besides the obvious reasons (pain, sickness etc) I have come to dread encounters with main-stream medical doctors for several reasons.  After reading several posts written by fellow bloggers, including Lori over at Dear Ms. Migraine (such as this one), I have discovered that I am not entirely alone in feeling frustrated by these experiences!

So, I decided it was time to write a little note to the medical community, with the hope that even if not a single doctor reads this, it helps someone out there dealing with a similar situation – you’re not alone, and you’re not crazy!

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Dear Doctors,

I won’t deny that there are some crazy people out there, and I’m sure you see more hypochondriacs and distraught mothers over-reacting than you can shake a stick at (whatever that means).  However, before you go making blanket generalizations about your patient, please consider the following:

1.  Telling someone with a legitimate chronic illness that it’s caused by stress or depression is not helpful.  Do you know what’s stressful and depressing?  Having a chronic illness.  Stress and depression are SYMPTOMS of the issue – not the cause. (Sure, stress and depression don’t help matters, and they can be the source of some health issues, but maybe if you took your patient seriously, they’d be less stressed and depressed!)

2.  Just because women have hormonal fluctuations every month, does not mean you can blame everything you don’t understand on their periods.  We know what PMS is like – it happens once a month.  But its no excuse to tell women they’re just being “overly emotional” every day for the rest of their lives.  In fact, trust me when I say that the best way to get us to become overly emotional, is to accuse us of that very thing.

3.  There is no age limit on disability.  Just because someone is 18, 25, 32, or any one particular age does not mean they are “too young” to be disabled.  Babies are born with disabilities – are they too young to be considered disabled?  Accidents happen – on the job, on the road, sitting at home on the couch – they’re unavoidable. As are chronic and terminal illnesses, and genetic disorders – many of which kick in around ages 19-20.

Oh, and please, don’t just assume your patient is just lazy, either. Think back to the last time you were laid up because you were sick – was it really enjoyable having to have everyone do everything for you, or did you find yourself going crazy after just a few days because you wanted to get up and just do it your-freaking-self?  I mean, you’re only 45, you should be capable, right?  Except, you weren’t able to, because you were sick.  Would you have gotten better faster if you had gone to a doctor who refused to give you a note for time off work because you were “too young” to have the flu?

If patients are coming to you they’re not too young to be disabled or too lazy to get a job – they’re in pain.

4.  It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.”  You’re going to gain a lot more credibility with your patients when at the end of the day, if you really can’t find a cause for their pain, you have the ability to be honest with them and say, “Unfortunately, you know what, I just don’t know what’s going on with you,” rather than brushing them off as “crazy” or telling them it’s all in their heads.  While you may not have “helped” them, you’re not minimizing the issue either.

5.  Research is an important component of treating a patient.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a doctor’s office only to have more information on my own illness than they do.  It’s called research.  If a patient can sit down at the computer and find out even semi-reliable information from google, as a trained physician you should be able to do much much more.

6.  Human interaction is key.  Patients are coming to you because there’s something wrong, and a lot of times they’re scared and overwhelmed as well.  A smile goes a long way.  Instead of staring at your computer screen while you type up patient notes…LOOK at your patient.  Physical contact is a good thing – feel their pulse, check for overall health and well being.  Yes, checklists, computers and systems all keep things organized, safe, and make sure you don’t miss any important steps, but nothing can tell you more about your patients than the patients themselves.

7. Listening leads to better results.  You’d be surprised at how well some people know their own bodies – listen to what they say about them.  Listen to what they say about how they feel, and what their symptoms are.  If they’ve brought someone with them to an appointment, ask for their input – have they noticed any changes in their parent/significant other/friend that the person themselves might not be as aware of? Was there anything they left out when talking about their issues?  Often times the people closest to the patient will have some insights as well.  And – don’t forget to listen to how they feel about the treatment plan, once you come up with one!  All in all, if a patient doesn’t feel like they’re being heard, they’re less likely to follow through with treatment or after care.

8. Keep in mind that everyone you see is someone else’s family.  How would you want your parent/child/sibling/significant other treated by their doctor?  Treat each of your patients accordingly.

Most importantly:

8. Always remember to take your patient seriously. Just because you can’t figure out what’s wrong, doesn’t mean nothing is wrong.  People don’t enjoy going to the doctor – it costs a lot, it takes time out of their already busy schedules, it’s inconvenient, uncomfortable, and just overall unenjoyable.  Not to mention that they’re usually there for an unpleasant reason.  If patients keep coming back, it’s because they’re sick. Don’t give up on them – do your homework (see #4), refer them to someone who might have more knowledge, or at least keep an open mind about the possibilities.

Science is making discoveries by leaps and bounds, and yet, there is still so much we don’t know about our own bodies.  People still die from AIDS, Cancer, even the flu!…Surely you can’t believe we have all the answers?


Your Patients

What is your least favorite part about going to the doctor?  How do you think the experience of going to the doctor could be improved? How do you think doctor-patient relationships could be improved?


14 thoughts on “To Doctor, From Patient

  1. Thanks for posting this helpful info. I think you are on to something about the doctor’s attitude. If they were to change their attitude in general, and provide better bedside manner, the patient will benefit from it greatly.

    • You’re very welcome, I’m glad you found it helpful! It’s so true, I have been to several different doctors in my life/have seen how they interact with other family members etc, and it’s amazing how much the quality of the interaction between doctor and patient can change the course of the appointment/future treatment. Thank you so much for your comment!

    • Thank you so much for the encouragement! I hadn’t even thought of it, but I’m actually considering it now… :)

  2. Except for a chiropractor, I have not been to a doctor in almost 10 years. They pay huge amounts of mal-practice insurance, so to make money, they are inticed by the kickbacks the get for prescribing drugs. I recomend reading a book called “Never be Sick Again” by Raymond Francis. It is the best book on health I have ever read and in the book, he indicates that doctors cause more illness than they prevent.

    • That sounds like a really interesting book, I will definitely have to check it out!
      And I agree, at this point, other than emergencies like broken bones etc, I have generally come to avoid doctors as well. The appointments generally go something along the lines of, “well, just take this pill and forget about the symptoms” instead of trying to find a cure for the cause.
      Chiropractors are pretty awesome though – I injured my back in high school falling off a horse, and man, I don’t know what I’d do without mine!

  3. This is great! I love this letter. Every person who’s had a family member in the hospital can totally relate. I hear you and love that you wrote something like this. I especially like #2 and #6. Good post.

    • Thank you so much! It’s unfortunate how many people out there seem to relate…And yes, I agree, I think numbers 2 and 6 have been the biggest issues we’ve been seeing as well!

  4. This is a great post! I am in my second year of medical school (on the way to becoming a doctor myself!) and these are important reminders for all of us. The patient/doctor relationship is a unique thing, and trust me, it is gratifying from this side as well to be able to connect with a patient.

    • I’m glad to know these are things that some doctors do take into consideration! It’s taken a while, but I think we’ve finally found a good base group of people to turn to. I’m sure, like any profession, there are people who you just don’t click with!
      Thank you for the comment :) And good luck in med school!!

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