Insight from One Colony
Orthopaedics, physical therapy, and related topics

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Patients and doctors

by Dr. Lefkowitz

Sometimes people see a doctor simply because treatment is needed to make uncomfortable symptoms go away. Sometime it is because there has been an injury that needs evaluation. But it can be more complicated than that. People worry about what is causing their symptoms (“Could I have cancer?”) or because troublesome symptoms have caused uncertainty (“How will I be able to support my family when I have pain that won’t let me work?”  Or even: “Will I have to cancel my trip?”). Yet patients sometimes feel that their doctor does not understand what is troubling them or, worse, that their doctor isn’t listening. I sometimes hear people say things like “My doctor is a terrific doctor but he doesn’t have time to talk with me”.

It is true that medical care has changed in recent years. During the past few years, doctors have been under increasing pressure to see more patients, spending less time with each patient. It can be tempting for doctors to order tests as a substitute for listening to, and talking with, their patients. And patients change doctors when they relocate or when insurance coverage changes. The result is that it may be difficult for patients and their doctors to get to know each other.  Sometimes a patient may not be satisfied when a doctor makes the diagnosis quickly, but does not recognize the patient’s need for explanation and discussion.

Some patients leave their doctor’s office unsatisfied, feeling that they have not been understood. Certainly doctors should work to prevent this, even when they are rushed. Yet it may be that the doctor cares, but sometimes does not communicate effectively with the patient

There are things that a patient may be able to do.

Prepare for the visit to make it efficient. Know why are you are coming to see the doctor. Organize the story. What is the major problem? How and when did it begin? What makes it better? What makes it worse? What else is not right? Bring a list of medications, including “supplements”.  Bring any X-rays, reports and test results that may be significant.

Try to understand what the doctor says. Listen carefully. Tell the doctor if things are not clear. Ask questions.  You might consider having someone with you to hear what its being said.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor. If you leave your doctor’s office feeling unsatisfied because you weren’t heard, or didn’t understand, you should tell your doctor. If necessary, make an appointment to have further discussion. A relationship with your doctor that isn’t satisfying your needs might be made to work. If you, the patient, are able to tell your doctor what you are feeling and are able to identify your needs, it can be worth that effort.

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