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How to Get What You Want from the Doctor

Absolute No-No's
Certain behaviors are like fingernails on a chalkboard to doctors. Some of these you can control, others you cannot. As mentioned earlier, if you are overweight or have a chronic health problem, you will need to strategize to overcome the doctor's possible bias against you. Beyond that, here are a few behaviors to avoid:

Don't act entitled. No matter how lofty your position in the outside world, when you are on the doctor's turf, resist ordering him around. "[Patients] seemed to think my job was to write them referrals," groused one doctor anonymously in "Curbside Consultation." "At their jobs...[they] were used to aggressive, confrontational relationships and they continuously challenged me into arguments." Control is extremely important to doctors. If you challenge them or overstep the bounds of typical patient behavior, you will raise their hackles. If you need to question their decisions, ask politely; never demand or confront.

Don't play doctor with the doctor. "Patients often arrived at the office armed with complex and marginal information from the Internet that was inconsistent with standards of care," the same "Curbside Consultation" physician complained. Oncologist Barry Rosenbloom voiced similar concerns. "I personally feel good when people are educated about the disease. They ask intelligent questions. But the thing I've got over the patient is experience and judgment and the ability to take care of sick people. Breast cancer is a good example. Patients come with literature; they're aware of the various chemotherapy regimens. But they have no idea what they mean, whether one is better than the other."

Don't test the doctor. Doctors are aware that many people seek second opinions, and that is fine with them. What they object to are patients who see several physicians for the same problem but don't reveal what the other doctors have discovered. This type of blind testing undermines all the doctors.

Don't blame the doctor for his staff. Doctors are often as frustrated with the front office staff as you are. Bring your complaints to the office manager, not your doctor. It's not worth wasting 5 minutes of your 15-minute visit. If you get no satisfaction from the office manager (or if she herself is the problem), call, write, or e-mail the doctor explaining the situation. If the staff is so wretched or disrespectful that you are considering dropping the doctor because of them, it's only fair to let him know.

Don't ask the doctor to do something unethical. People commonly ask their doctors to write false reports so they can get out of work, get on disability, get handicapped parking permits, and so forth. Although it might seem like a harmless request, you are in fact asking the doctor to lie and possibly jeopardize his career.

Don't bad-mouth other doctors. If you disliked a former doctor's care and must explain your concerns to your new doctor, keep your tone and language neutral. Talk about the treatment itself rather than the doctor who provided it. If the doctor asks why you changed physicians, simply say that you and he didn't communicate very well.

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From Say the Magic Words by Lynette Padwa. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If you'd like to buy this book, go to Amazon.


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