Don't Drive Your Doctor Crazy: How to Be a Better Patient
Whether you are having your annual checkup, going for routine tests, or due for a more serious medical procedure, there are things every patient can do to make a doctor's work easier – or to make his or her life more difficult.
Among the irritants that doctors complain about, the six types of patient who are most difficult for them to help are:
1. The Noncompliant Patient
According to a Consumer Reports magazine survey of 39,090 patients and 335 doctors, the number one complaint among 59% of doctors is that patients don't follow directions.
They stop taking their medication, forget to take it regularly in the first place, or take it at the wrong time of day. They walk twice a week instead of four times when a doctor tells them they should exercise "regularly." Whether it's intentional or accidental, the number one complaint of doctors is that patients don't do what they're told.
2. The Patient Ignorant of His or Her Own Family History
Rodale publishing claims that as many as 70% of patients give their doctor a blank stare when asked about family medical history. That's a frightening percentage of the population that is uninformed about things they need to know to stay healthy.
If there's a risk factor in your family for cancer, high blood pressure, or thyroid problems, you need to know about it to prevent problems from developing and to ensure that you receive the correct treatment, should a problem develop. Your doctor's hands are tied if you can't provide them with information that is pivotal to your health and well-being.
3. The Patient Who is Too Informed… or Misinformed
41% of doctors complain that patients come to see them with information – and sometimes crazy ideas – gleaned from television, the internet, chain emails, popular health magazines, and other sources.
"The internet is a dangerous place," says Dr. Deborah Shapiro. "I'm very much for the informed patient. I think they make better patients in general. But a lot of times, they will hear a diagnosis and go on the internet and get information that is inappropriate to them. They either get scared or think they require treatments I'm not offering or they're misinformed."
Some patients demand tests they don't need - tests that can drive up healthcare costs and delay diagnosis tools and treatment to people who really need it.
Others request drugs they have heard about through television or other media, say 75% of doctors surveyed by Consumer Reports. Of these doctors, 67% said they sometimes bend to their patients' requests and prescribe medication that another 28% considered "flat-out unnecessary."
4. The Withdrawn Patient, or the "DoorKnobber"
Many patients will downplay their symptoms, try to cover up problems with polite euphemisms, or refuse to discuss what's really bothering them once they arrive at their doctor's office.
It's called "doorknobbing"; a patient gives a list of trivial symptoms, or just plain clams up, and then finally mentions the thing that really has them worried as the doctor goes to leave and his or her hand hits the doorknob. "It's such a threatening symptom they can't bring themselves to say it except in passing," says Nancy Metcalf of Consumer Reports.
You shouldn't feel shy about discussing your fears with a medical professional. "The normal laws of politeness don't apply," says Metcalf. "If you have flatulence or sexual problems, you won't talk about it at a dinner party, but you should tell your doctor."
You can save yourself and your doctor both time and frustration by mentioning what really brought you in, first.
5. The Patient Who Lies
In a similar vein, it's incredibly frustrating for doctors to deal with patients who lie about symptoms, dietary habits, how often they exercise – or anything else.
Nobody is perfect, and your doctor doesn't expect you to be – and probably doesn't believe you if you claim not to have any vices. If you regularly indulge in fast food, or you haven't been jogging since last summer, then these facts might be relevant and should be disclosed to your doctor. It's only you who stands to be hurt by withholding or editing the information you give your doctor.
Telling your doctor the whole truth, whatever that may be, always guarantees faster diagnosis and better treatment.
6. The Sleepless Patient
According to Rodale Publishing, doctors claim that nine out of ten symptoms are linked to lack of sleep. Insomnia, stress, or a busy schedule that keeps you awake too many hours of the day are enough to contribute to hypertension, diabetes, depression, and even a stroke or heart attack. Getting enough sleep can pay huge dividends in terms of your health, and it's worth getting plenty of shut-eye for a few weeks before you go to your doctor with symptoms that may be nothing more than sleep deprivation.
So You Think You're the Perfect Patient?
Interestingly, the Consumer Reports survey showed that patients and doctors have remarkably different opinions on patient compliance with questions and treatment.
Even if you think you're an ideal patient, it's worth considering your behavior to see if there's anything you can do to make your doctor's visit easier, and improve your chances of being properly treated and diagnosed.
Tesh, John, "Annoying Patient Behaviors That Drive Doctors Nuts," Tesh.com, February 12, 2009.
Alterio, Julie M., "Some patients give their doctors a headache," LoHud.com, March 25, 2007.