When your doctor doesn’t listen—10 tips to help change that.
Readers sometimes confide that they feel their doctors don’t listen. Perhaps you have felt this way too. Readers most often share feeling this way regarding discussions they’ve had with their oncologists about side effects from endocrine therapy.
You might want to read and download, Endocrine Therapy – Managing & Making Decisions About Your Aromatase Inhibitor Medication.
But, of course, endocrine therapy is not the only realm in which patients sometimes feel not listened to.
In fact, communicating effectively with your doctor can be challenging no matter what your issues are or the state of your health, right?
A common complaint readers share (again, most often regarding endocrine therapy treatment) is that their symptoms are dismissed as not that bad, pretty normal, or par for the course due to normal aging.
Annoying as hell, right?
Of course, most doctors are NOT dismissive, though sometimes they give this impression. And many doctors are indeed excellent listeners.
You might want to read, When Doctors Seem Dismissive.
It’s important to remember that doctors are NOT mind readers.
Therefore, the burden of effective patient/doctor communication (regarding your issues/questions) falls mostly on the patient. Yes, that means YOU. And me. Actually, all of us because at some point, we all are, or will be, patients. Even doctors!
Having said this, some doctors definitely need to step it up. After all, a huge part of being a compassionate, effective physician is being a good listener.
Docs, (and patients too) you might want to read this piece, Is the Patient Difficult? Or Are You Not Listening? by Dr. Don S. Dizon.
There are likely many reasons why some doctors are not particularly good at listening, but I suspect a primary reason is related to time, or the lack thereof.
Listening requires a conscious effort by the listener and time. The latter is often in short supply in the medical setting too. Nonetheless, lack of time cannot be the excuse for not listening.
In addition, there are perhaps other questions in need of exploring regarding this topic of listening such as:
Do doctors listen differently to women vs. men?
And what about the elderly?
I will leave those questions for another day.
Doctors need to keep in mind that we patients are seeing you because, well, because we’re sick. Most of the time anyway. This in itself, means we are not at our best due to potentially, a lot of reasons.
In addition, much of illness is embarrassing. Sometimes super embarrassing.
Personal matters are often being discussed. We might be seeing you without all our clothes on. We are exposing ourselves. Literally.
In other words, being a patient is hard. Damn hard.
And for some of us, it’s even harder due to our specific disease or condition or even due to our personalities.
For instance, I’m the sort of person who doesn’t like others being in my personal space. Heck, I don’t even like getting my hair cut. So yeah, being a breast cancer patient is my worst nightmare. Well, one of them anyway.
So let’s talk about how to communicate more effectively with your doctor.
When your doctor doesn’t listen—10 tips to help change that:
1. Go in prepared. Write stuff down and get specific so you have documentation about what ails you and/or what your issues are.
For example, if you’re a cancer patient, keeping a journal or record of some kind is super helpful. Record your symptoms, side effects and personal observations. Be specific. If your joints hurt, which ones? Having pain, where exactly? Are there certain times you feel worse or better? Are you sleeping? Are you eating? Record dates and times whenever possible. Again, specifics are helpful.
2. Make a list of all questions. Yes, I mean ALL.
The list of questions is a no-brainer, right? But again, be specific. And don’t forget to take your questions with you when you go out the door to your appointment. (I have forgotten mine.)
And after you ask your questions, write down the answers. If you’re like me, by the time you get home, you sometimes forget what they were, right?
3. Take someone with you to appointments IF it will help put you more at ease and give you confidence to be more direct.
Obviously, if another pair of eyes and ears makes you more uncomfortable, going it alone is better.
4. Insist on speaking with a doctor before any disrobing takes place so you begin your appointment from a position of less vulnerability.
This is especially important when you are meeting a new doctor. Sometimes time doesn’t allow for this when your doctor isn’t new, but feel free to request this if it matters to you.
5. Don’t settle and keep pressing.
Be sure you understand answers, directions, reasons or whatever. Get stuff repeated until you understand. Otherwise, what’s the point of being there?
Don’t worry about being labeled “that difficult patient”.
(I’ve probably been called that. I know I’ve been called angry; I read that via my patient portal.)
6. Don’t be intimidated. Okay, try not to be.
Again, as a patient, you are in a vulnerable state. I get that. We all get that. But this is your appointment, your life. Speak up. Voice your concerns. Ask your questions. Step out of your comfort zone. Stick up for what you believe and/or want. Don’t be put off.
7. It’s okay to interrupt the doctor.
This doesn’t mean you get to be rude. That is never okay. However, it does mean you can interrupt to say things like: excuse me, that’s not helpful. Please repeat that. I don’t think that’ll work. I already tried that. It feels like you aren’t listening. Or whatever.
8. Ask for referrals if you need more (or different) help.
If you are too uncomfortable with a certain question, ask to speak to someone else. This could be a nurse (if your concern is immediate) or a different physician in a different area of expertise (if you can wait for availability). If you need more, or something different, there are options.
If necessary, switch doctors.
9. If available to you, utilize your patient portal.
You can ask uncomfortable questions or bring up topics you want to discuss there beforehand. Works nicely if you remember stuff you still want to ask once you get home too.
10. Remember no concern is too small, or too big, to bring up.
If something’s bothering you, mention it. If you don’t, you’ll likely regret that you didn’t when you get home. Your doctor has likely heard it all before, perhaps just not from you. So, speak up. (Yes, I know it’s hard.)
Finally, it’s important to remember that communicating effectively with your doctor(s) is really self-advocating, and self-advocating is a skill. Like other skills it takes practice.
You will get better at it. You will.
This doesn’t mean it will be ever be easy. It sure isn’t for me.
But hopefully it can get a little easier.
Sometimes that’s enough.
Share about a time you felt not listened to – or about a time you did feel listened to.
Is it hard for you to talk frankly with your doctors and/or others on your medical team?
What tip(s) might you add?