Dealing With Doctors (Especially If You Have A Chronic Condition): Part 1

Today, I’d like to talk about the subject of doctors.

In this two part blog series, I’ll be covering a 3 step approach to finding a doctor and ensuring that you have the most productive appointment possible.  Part 1 will cover the first—and biggest—step. Part 2 of the series will cover steps 2 and 3…and get you on your way to finding a doctor that works for you!

Dealing with Doctors Part 1

Dealing with medical professionals (finding good ones, being able to describe your problems, trying to find new treatments, being treated with respect, so on and so forth) is, I think, one of the more difficult aspects of living with difficult health conditions. Even though there are lots of things I love about the health care community, there have been times where dealing with medical professionals about my chronic pain (or any other long-standing problem) has caused me so much anxiety and fear because I have been blown off, scoffed at, and generally not taken seriously. And unfortunately, my story isn’t the only one like this.

Let me be clear: I am not making a blanket statement about doctors. After all, I am one and I know that many of us work extremely hard to address issues for our patients and spend a lot of time researching these illnesses. In further defense, a lot of chronic illnesses—especially chronic pain and autoimmune conditions—are very hard to understand and there is, despite the fact that they are all rapidly growing fields, still a lack of research (both in quantity and quality) to work with. This is especially true when it comes to natural or holistic treatment approaches. On top of that, there are only so many symptoms a body part is capable of expressing!  How is one to know what is causing the symptoms that thousands of people have…but for different reasons? And even further, each person is going to respond to treatments in an entirely unique way! Taking all these things into account, it is a tough problem indeed, and I have a lot of respect for the doctors that are willing to take on these challenges.

Luckily, there are ways to deal with the problems I’ve outlined above and get the care you are looking for.  It can be frustrating to bounce from doctor to doctor and not make any progress. This can also become very expensive! And not to mention unsafe, as trying random “quick fix” treatments can make things even worse.

Overall, the goal is to work on finding a doctor who has the highest chance of helping you.

This involves asking questions such as:

  • How much experience does this doctor have with your condition?
  • Is it something that they are interested and willing to learn more about?
  • Will they be able to provide you with the treatments that will help?
  • Are they willing to have an open and constructive conversation with you?
  • Are they someone who listens well and makes you feel heard?

All in all, finding the right health care provider for your unique situation isn’t the easiest thing to do and, admittedly, will require some effort on your part.

Past Problems and Putting In Effort

Now, if you’ve had terrible experiences with health care providers, I can totally understand why putting an effort into this is difficult, considering the fact that you quite possibly feel insulted, mistreated, and/or unheard.

Here’s what I’ve done in the past: take 5, 10, 30 minutes (however long you need!) to write down all your frustrations onto a piece of paper. Then—and this part is the hard part—throw it away. Rip it up, set it on fire, do anything…but let go of your grudges and approach the subject anew. There are good doctors out there and putting in some additional effort will allow you to find them. ‘Yes, this is hard.  But the alternative is not getting the help you need…and that only hurts you.

Alright, time to get started with Step #1!

Step 1: Know What You’re Looking For

In most cases, showing up and saying “I need help.” will not lead to the most productive appointment. In some cases it does work. But it’s not something you can necessarily rely on.

Exception: this approach is slightly better suited for your primary care physician. Specialists often look at things very narrowly (to be fair, not all do!) and so it’s usually best to come in with specifics. Primary care doctors can look at your more globally so that they can run necessary tests, rule out common problems, and make referrals to the most relevant specialists. Then you’ll be able to compile all that information for future doctors and it will allow them to understand your story/problem much more quickly.

But it general and regardless of the type of doctor, it’s good to know what you want before you ever get to the appointment. Here is a list of things to address before you even start to think about finding a specific doctor because you’re going to understand what you need that much more clearly.  You might want to type out the answers to these to really get an idea of where you are and what’s most important.  At some point, you might consider printing out the answers, putting into a folder, and giving them to the doctor you’ll eventually pick out.

Things To Answer/Consider As You Start Looking For A Physician:

1) Illness History

What has been the exact progression of your illness? What do you think makes your condition better or worse? What are the things that bother you the most?

2) Past Treatments

Compile of all the treatments you’re ever taken/done/tried. This allows the physician to get a feel for where you are at in the treatment of your condition and allows them to jump to the next step, instead of repeating things you’ve already tried.  They might also be able to tweak the treatments or use them together to get a better result.

3) Current Treatments

List of things you’re trying right now. I often encourage people to bring all medicines they are taking to the appointment so that the doctors can see for themselves.  This allows the provider to make sure the treatments are safe for you, won’t interact with each other, and help make suggestions for what to do next.

4) List of questions/concerns that you’d like to address most. 

This can be difficult if you’re experiencing many different problems.  But it’s important to realize that doctors’ appointments, on average, are scheduled to be relatively short (usually 15-30 minutes…although some specialists will do longer appointments).

You’ll feel much more productive and accomplished in the appointment if you pick ONE problem that it is the most pressing issue for you right now. Then, I’d write down 2 other secondary problems that you can bring up if you have time.  Keep a list of all the other thing you’d like to discuss and set up a repeat appointment to cover those problems later down the road (it can be the following week or several months later!).

As an example, here’s a list of things I’m planning on talking about with the doctor I’m seeing next week: I suspect that I am still having continued hormonal imbalances so would like to get repeat blood work and ultrasounds done to see how they have changed since I got the last round of blood work/ultrasounds done.  This will also help me gauge how I’ve been responding to the medicine I was given last time. I am also going to discuss getting injections done for my chronic pelvic pain. This is something I’ve spoken with my doctor about previously and I know that it will be a matter of getting a referral from her to go to another doctor.

I know that I’ll be able to cover these issues in the allotted time I get, and I’m much more convinced that I’ll leave the doctor’s office content with what we’ve covered.  Anything that we don’t get to will go on my list of things I want to cover in later appointments. It’s tempting to try to cover everything! But I think you’ll be happy you didn’t.

5) New Information

For the treatments that you’d like to investigate, bring in the information you’ve been reading and give it to your doctor.

However (!), there is a big caveat here.

Charging in with a bunch of papers and telling the doctor what to do will generally get you on their list-of-patients-that-are-too-demanding and not get you’re the results you’re looking for.  No one likes feeling like their expertise is being undermined. I’m sure you’ve seen similar effects when being too demanding with other people you’ve hired for their expertise (accountants, contractors, cooks, trainers, etc.).

In order to be fair about presenting new information, I think it’s important to bring in what you have, ask for advice, and leave the papers with them until the next visit. This allows the doctor to think, research, and discuss the information before giving you their opinion. After that, it’s up to you to take time and consider their response, even if you don’t initially agree with it.  In the end, this might mean you find a different doctor…or maybe you start to look into other treatment options that that particular doctor recommends.  You’re working together, after all, so it’s important that both sides stay respectful, thoughtful, and open minded.

This can seem difficult when you’re pretty set on what you’re looking for.  However, if you’ve gone through all three steps outlined in this two-part blog series, you’re going to end up with a doctors that is a good fit for you…therefore I think it’s important to consider what they are bringing up for you.

So let’s review what we’ve covered:

  • problems you might have had with medical professionals in the past
  • how to address and start to be more constructive about finding a health care provider that works with you to get you what you need
  • questions to ask yourself and information to provide when you’re getting ready to find a new doctor

Up Next

In the next blog post, we’ll discuss Steps 2 and 3.  This will cover how to use the information you’ve gathered to start narrowing down your list of potential providers and the next steps to take to find the one (or several!) that makes the final cut.

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