An excerpt from The Take-Charge Patient: How You Can Get The Best Medical Care (Lemon Grove Press) which will be released May 15, 2012.
Here are a few suggestions that will help you make the most of your relationship with your doctor. They are for your benefit as a patient, because the more you know, the more empowered you will feel.
Remember That Doctors Are Human Beings
Almost every health care professional emphasized that we all must realize that doctors are people just like us. They have personalities, feelings, good days, bad days, families and social lives.
Sometimes doctors are forced to sacrifice important events to tend to their patients. They miss their kids’ soccer games, medical appointments, school meetings and social events. Sure, they chose their profession, but the demands and sacrifices are great. I never realized just how much they sacrifice for their patients until I interviewed the physicians for this book.
Humanize Yourself to Your Doctor
It’s easy for us to feel the urgency to get right to the point of why we are seeing the doctor. We begin listing symptoms, talk about how we aren’t feeling well, and ask for help.
I happen to believe that if we jump right into our symptoms, that is how the doctor will view us—as a set of symptoms she needs to diagnose and treat. I want my doctor to see me as a human being, just as I see her. If she sees me as a human being, then more than likely she will connect to me personally, and that can enhance her willingness to help me. This may not always be possible as some doctors simply are not interested in connecting personally to their patients.
Use Your People Skills
If someone likes you, they are more willing to go the extra mile for you. This is where your people skills are useful because your doctor will respond to you more positively if you are friendly. That isn’t always easy if you aren’t feeling well, but I’ve heard from many doctors that a patient who is angry, bitter, belligerent or has a bad attitude is not well liked. Being a likeable patient is being a smart patient.
Being a smart patient doesn’t mean you are faking or being disingenuous. It means you implement strategies to maximize your interaction with the doctor and her staff. You don’t have to put up with bad treatment or allow anyone to treat you disrespectfully—I’m not suggesting that you be a doormat. I’m suggesting that being a nice person will get you more of what you want.
Be Nice to Your Doctor
Be nice, polite and appreciative. Many doctors shared experiences with me about patients who were not nice to them. If you aren’t nice to your doctor, you are not going to get what you want.
Your doctor has something you want that you cannot give to yourself. Do your best to elicit a positive response from your doctor. It’s just common sense.
We’ve all had experiences with doctors who have made us wait forever when we weren’t feeling well or whose staff ignored us or were rude or unhelpful. I’m not asking you not to stick up for yourself; I’m asking you to express yourself diplomatically because you need what this doctor has to offer.
I try to show goodwill and appreciation toward my doctors not just from a public relations perspective (although that does factor in), but also because I do truly appreciate what my doctors do for me. I am mindful of how far a simple verbal thank you or thank-you note goes.
The goal is to let your doctor know that you value the good care she gives you. If your doctor goes the extra mile for you, express gratitude. We all like to hear that we have done well or that we have done something to improve someone else’s life. Doctors need that too.
If you complain a lot or approach the doctor and staff with a bad attitude or a sense of entitlement, you are simply not going to get what you want. If there has been a serious error or act of obvious neglect, channel your anger so you don’t come across as out of control. Remember—be firm but respectful. No name-calling or yelling. You only discredit yourself if you yell at doctors and their staff. You look like the villain if you lose control.
Be Nice to the Doctor’s Staff
Befriend the doctor’s staff. This will help you in a multitude of ways. For example, if you have an urgent message for the doctor, need to see the doctor the same day, need a prescription refill sooner rather than later, or need a procedure scheduled immediately, most of the time you’ll get your needs met much sooner if you are friendly and appreciative of the doctor’s staff.
Most medical professionals suggested trying to talk with the same person each time you call the office to establish a relationship with that person. This will be your go-to person if you ever have an important need to be addressed.
If the front desk person fits you in for an urgent appointment, thank her. This person did you a favor.
Be Nice to the Doctor on Call
Several doctors mentioned the importance of being polite and respectful to the doctor on call—the physician who is covering for your doctor. If you are not, word gets around. This affects how the doctor and her staff perceive you, and it can affect the quality of your medical care.
Act Involved in Your Health
Who knows your body better than you do? You are the expert on you—share with your doctor what you know so she can do her job.
Most doctors said that patients who are involved and invested in their health cause them to be more involved and invested in the patient’s health. Many physicians said that if a patient doesn’t care, it makes their job much more difficult. Many said that patients who don’t care aren’t going to follow their instructions to get better.
If you think about it, what is your doctor’s motivation to go out of her way for you if you give the impression you don’t care about your health and medical care?
-Martine Ehrenclou is a patient advocate and speaker. She is the author of Critical Conditions: The Essential Hospital Guide to Get Your Loved One Out Alive and The Take-Charge Patient.