When healthcare is mentioned in conversations, I think one of the most frequent complaints is our doctors don’t listen. Sure they hear us, but most of the time they aren’t listening. And the distinct difference between the two is about a mile. Sometimes, it feels like Wonderland, and you’re a trumpet flower, trying to tell Alice where to go in quite simple Wonderlandian, but she’s just so contrary!
That’s my nice way of putting it…
It is not a little known fact that if you have one or 5 love handles your doctor tends to revolve mostly around you’re weight. Considering most of American people are considered clinically obese in the least, I wonder if they ever tire of talking about weight. Surely they must - or they would listen better when we do try to talk to them about our weight.
I can’t tell you how many times people I love very much say: "if the doctors had listened to me, we could have caught it sooner…”
And it’s true. If they had listened to my sister about her pain, maybe she would not have had to lose her uterus to cancer. If they had listened to my mom, maybe she could have had a diagnosis when she was 40 about her multiple sclerosis. Or sooner.
I have been frustrated with this most of my life. It was when I had to go to extremes to prove to my doctors about my physical activity and food intake, and produced physical proof about both, that I finally got a diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. But after that, I still got treated poorly by doctors and my pleas for help went I ignored until I was 26. My luck changed when I finally got a female doctor who had PCOS herself. Finally, someone who listened when I told them: “I can’t lose weight. I’m trying so hard and nothing is working. I'm not ending up on some weight loss reality TV show, I'll shoot myself before then.”
But it was because she understood. She referred me for a bariatric surgery and pleaded to my insurance about it being needed for health and not for cosmetic reasons. She really fought for me. It was amazing.
Because the preparation for bariatric surgery is 7 months long through the program I went through, I had a lot of appointments with her for weigh-ins.
And she was kind enough to give me advice during this time about what to say to doctors to get their attention.
“Listen. We are trained to understand, and eventually realize for ourselves on the field that people lie. Addicts lie, prideful people lie, scared people lie. What does not lie, is data. Blood tests, imaging tests, flu tests, urine samples. All of this is data- honest data that can only touched by human error. We listen for what symptoms are being exhibited and then make an educated guess to figure out where to get our data to find the answer. You have to give the correct information- so a doctor can gather the correct data.”
During that time, I had 7 months of primary care check-ups and weigh-ins, anesthesiologists, gastro-specialists, nutritional specialists, support groups with therapists… I learned how to speak proper Patientdoctorese, and now for the most part, I can give my doctors what they need so they genuinely listen to my concerns.
So, here are my tips on how to talk to your doctors, to help them really hear you, and get on the path to getting you feeling better. And surprisingly, the secret to speaking patientdoctorese is only 3 very simple rules.
Rule Number 1: Be extremely specific.
You can't just go into your doctor and say: "I don't feel right," or "I don't feel good." If you go in and say: "My back hurts." That tells them nothing except that you're hurting.
If you got hurt, tell them the story: "I was lawn mowing, and I took the corner too sharp and I fell off of it. Ever since then my lower back every time I move sends sharp shooting pains up my spine to my neck, and my left leg hurts when I walk on it." From here, they know they should get X-rays to check for fractures or any other problems with your back, and also perhaps even refer you to physical therapy to help your back heal.
Say in this situation, you go in and instead of saying the above, all you say is: "I really hurt my back and leg." They may ask you questions, but if you're not being specific with them and let them know it's a genuine injury - then they might just throw some extra strength Tylenol at you and assume you'll feel better. Guess what? You now have back problems, until a doctor discovers that you have an injury that can be rehabilitated. And lord knows when that will be, right?
Rule Number 2: If you have data, bring it with you to your doctor.
You'd be surprised how often bringing in a food log, blood sugar reading journal, or data from your fitness tracking device can save you and your doctor a ton of time. Not only that but it gives your doctor a clear idea of what is going on with whatever you're keeping track of and paints a picture of a health-conscious and responsible patient.
I have found that doctors are more fond of patients who do a good job presenting a responsible lifestyle. Go figure.
I know it's really tedious if you have diabetes to write down your meals and correctly check your blood and log it (I don't know a single diabetic who actually checks their blood like they are supposed to - but then again when diabetic strips and needles being expensive you can't really blame them) however - if you do this you can not only keep a better track of your own health and habits, but you can also save a whole "here are some blood sugar and food log papers. come back in two weeks and bring these with you" appointment.
Even if you don't have diabetes or you're not working on a weight-loss problem or whatever, if you can apply the "provide data" thing in any aspect, it shows it's important to you, and therefore they will take an interest in it.
Rule Number 3: Avoid The Proverbial Band-Aid Solutions.
Don't let a doctor get away with just throwing medicine at you. To be honest, a lot of doctors assume that's what most of their patients want. "Just make me feel better, doc."
Well, there's a pharmaceutical for almost everything. And if you're happy with a band-aid solution they will give it to you. If you're having sleeping problems, and a pill might help you, they will go to that. It must be you who says: "Well, doc, medicine might help. But I would like to figure out why this is happening, so maybe we can fix it for good."
It's sad that this has to be a rule, a doctor should want to get to the root of every problem but let's get real here: How many people you know go to every appointment they need to go to for their problems? How many people have time? How many people can afford to get full-term treatment?
America has been designed to leave us screwed in healthcare situations, and doctors know that. Not to mention, why would they invest extra time and medical resources for someone who doesn't seem reliable to do what they need to do? Being in the medical field is grim, and you see all kinds.
And the unfortunate truth is, the amount of people out there who want to be healthy or who can afford to be healthy is not as many as you think. Think of all the people who complain about things, but never do anything to lift a finger to change their situations.
So, yes, you must be the one to tell the doctors you don't want a medicinal band-aid. You want to get to the root of the problem.
And that's it. The three simple rules to making your doctors hear what you are saying when you are genuinely trying to get them to listen.
Now, keep in mind, that this works with GOOD doctors. I am disclaiming, right here and now, if these three rules do not work for you next time you are at the doctor, then maybe it is not you who is the issue in that particular relationship. And if that's the case, then perhaps a different doctor may have some better insight.