No one really likes going to the doctor, right? I don’t dread the doctor’s as much as other people do, but I do know how frustrating the experience can be. Recently, I’ve experienced some frustration with my regular physician and that makes me question how I can better deal with my doctor to get better care. Despite the convenience in scheduling and wait times on appointment days, I’ve noticed more frequent communication issues, which makes me question the quality of care I’m receiving.
I’ve worked on a few health campaigns and studied health communication throughout both my undergraduate and graduate years in college, so I’ve learned the ins and outs of patient-physician relationships. I’ve learned how there are plenty of things doctors could do better, and an equal portion on the part of the patient. I’ve even been quick to point out problems when a friend or family member relates a story about their doctor (most of the time pointing out what the family member or friend could’ve done better). With the most recent issues I’ve experienced, I have realized I have a stake in my own health and I need to address those concerns if I hope to get quality care.
When going over recent visits and doing my own research, I noticed that a lot of the issues I experienced are ones that are common in doctor-patient communication.
1.) Miscommunication overrides clarity
My last visit I was greeted with a survey about depression – a survey which I remember taking at the visit prior. I remember at that past visit, how the doctor would ask me about it so I should be sure to hold onto it until my doctor came in to see me. But when the doctor didn’t ask, and was walking out to leave, I asked him if he needed it. To my surprise, the doctor himself didn’t seem to know what the survey was, nor did he even want it. So my question was Why give me a survey and told it was pertinent if my doctor didn’t even know about it nor did he seem to care? So when I was handed the same survey at my most recent visit, I decided to not mention it to the doctor and see if I would be asked. Again, the doctor didn’t mention it, and didn’t seem curious about the clipboard I had sitting next to me on the examination table. So as I was getting ready to leave I left the clipboard on the table and folded the survey and stuck it in my pocket.
There was clearly a lot of miscommunication, and continues to be between my doctor and his support staff, which has also trickled into the communication I have with my doctor as seen by me not mentioning the depression survey. The time spent working on this survey could’ve been spent going over my concerns, instead of focusing on a survey that doesn’t even matter. Most people are nervous to see the doctor, so “wasting” the patient’s time on something the doctor doesn’t think is pertinent is unnecessary and detracts from the patient being focused and honest.
*I use the word wasting in quotes because I don’t find the survey was a waste, but merely the fact that it wasn’t looked at or brought into discussion was.
2.) Bad or dismissive attitude
I also found my doctor to be very dismissive of my concerns at our last visit, which shocked me from my early time with him. I’ve been running a lot more in the past year or so after taking almost all my college years off from my running routine. I’ve developed severe pain in the arch of my left foot and a friend suggested I could be flat-footed. So I brought both concerns to my doctor. What I received back was an attitude that is the physical equivalent of an eye roll. “I guess I can take a look, but it doesn’t sound serious,” was a paraphrased account of his response. Whether it was a serious concern or not, I’m being vocal about my concerns – something a majority of today’s patients are not, and I’m met with a dismissive attitude, a huge issue to doctor-patient communication. In fact, many patients feel dismissed by their doctor which impedes patients from being open and honest with future concerns at future visits.
3.) Unfair assumptions
In another scenario, my doctor reached out to me via phone to discuss results I had from an allergy blood test. Something I found remarkable and that not a lot of doctors do. My doctor would’ve scored a point in my book, but rather he let the opportunity get away from him. He mumbled and rambled off what I was allergic to, which I couldn’t understand. So when I asked if I could have the results mailed to me, he gave me a lecture about how sending it through the mail would cost money and that I should be signed up his patient portal. Now a patient portal is awesome, convenient and cost-effective. There’s just one problem, I was never told about this patient portal, so how could I possibly know about it? We can’t assume doctors have every answer and cure, just like doctors can’t assume every patient is fully knowledgeable about every resource.
I was so annoyed that I considered switching to a new doctor. But I’ve learned that switching doctors can be just as detrimental to your quality of care. Most people don’t think of it because they are either unsatisfied with their care, or don’t like what their doctor is telling them, but switching doctors means you are starting from square one. A new doctor doesn’t know you or your history, which means the shared meaning between you and your doctor has to rebuild itself.
When most people think of doctor-patient communication, or healthcare in general they tend to think of older Americans who tend to seek their doctor’s help more frequently. But healthcare is universal, and displayed by my experiences above, healthcare is just as important to Millennials as it is to Boomers who may visit the doctor three to six times more a year than Millennials.
But Millennials can tend to be very picky and unique patients, who if they focus on communication can build a strong relationship with their doctor and improve their quality of care.
What is easy to believe is that Millennials desire time for discussion and verbal communication about specific treatment and recommendations as the most important factors contributing to better care. It seems like any patient would want desire those aspects. However, Millennials are more likely to make a switch to a different doctor if they feel their care was unsatisfactory, sharing referrals and negative experiences, while also seeking out the web for healthcare information.
Millennials have been known to quit a job if they don’t like it, but the trend continues that they are willing to ditch a doctor if they feel similar disdain. The fact of the matter is Millennials, by making the web their number one health resource and their willingness to ditch their doctor, can spell huge hazards for their health and their care.
1.) Be assertive by holding your doctor accountable.
I made the mistake of letting a few issues with my doctor fall by the wayside. For instance, the depression survey that makes me question his office’s communication. I should’ve told him that I’ve been given this survey more than once but it doesn’t seem to be on their radar of importance. If something of issue comes to mind, Millennials tend to stay quiet with their doctor, but then share the negative experience with their family and friends. I am guilty of this and I’m really disappointed in myself for it. Doctors are under immense stress and time constraints while trying to give all their patients the best care. If something you feel is array it is unfair to not share that with your doctor. After all you are one patient willing to catch something more than a doctor who can be seeing dozens of patients in one day. Here’s what I should’ve said to hold my doctor accountable:
Me: Hey Doc, the last time I was here you didn’t really know about the survey the secretary told me to fill out and this time you didn’t even ask about it. I feel that it is something important, but there seems to be a disconnect here. I just don’t want to spend my time on something if it won’t matter in the long run. Should I be concerned about this?
You can’t be afraid to be assertive. There was a clear lack of communication on the part of my doctor and his staff. However, addressing the issue can correct it then and there instead of letting it trickle into other areas of your health communication and relationship with your doctor. Just don’t be aggressive and accusatory toward your doctor. You never know why the issue occurred and could be much simpler than you think. So give them the opportunity to address your concerns.
2.) Ask your doctor for recommendations for seeking out your own information.
WebMD is not your friend. But Millennials, more than any generation seek out health information using the web, mainly because they are tech-savy, but also because there are trends with how Millennials tend to scrutinize information more than other generations. While WebMD is a web tool aimed to give you health information, it also gives you very generalized information on a broad spectrum. Got a headache? Well it could be stress or it could be a brain tumor! Rather than allow your mind to wander to the worst case scenario, ask your doctor based on your health history, how to seek out health information using technology as well as where to find it. I know great places are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) because they are legitimately funded institutions that do first-hand research. But your doctor may know of similar organizations that specialize in certain and more specific ailments or illnesses, something that may give you better information for your health.
You: Hey Doc, I know I’m only one patient, but I want to stay informed regularly with news and research about my *ailment/illness/injury.* Do you recommend a place that is legitimate and can give me good information in the days that I don’t see you? I want to stay on top of my health, but I don’t want to be victim to any phony information.
Because Millennials tend to be so concerned with time and verbal communication with treatment and recommendations, putting this out there first can allow you to stay better informed leading to more effective appointments with your doctor. Maybe you find a more cost-effective treatment that can be just as good for your health, knowing this ahead of time by seeking out your doctor’s recommendation could allow for more quality conversations and better use of time during your appointment.
3.) Share your concerns if you feel they conflict with a doctor’s recommendations, but also give your doctor’s recommendations a try.
Millennials also tend to search out more cost-effective and preventative measures when it comes to their health. When I shared my concerns about my seasonal allergies, I was told the best option for me would be to do an antihistamine nasal spray and an over-the-counter allergy medication. But I didn’t want to feel like I had to depend on these whenever allergies came into play, especially since mine tend to be unpredictable. My doctor recommended an allergy blood test that will pinpoint exactly what I’m allergic to in order to better avoid those allergens. While I’m still in the process of getting these results, I feel these may be options that allow me to not have to use a nasal spray or medication everyday. It could mean a better preventative measure saving me money in the long run.
But I also gave my doctor’s recommendations a try, mainly because my allergies were so bad this season that I needed relief. After using nasal spray everyday for about a week, I noticed a difference.I wasn’t stuffed up like I had been whenever I woke up and throughout the day. Even now, when I haven’t used nasal spray in a few days, I feel less stuffy than in the past. It may be a coincidence, but I feel a difference and know to listen when my doctor makes a recommendation, instead of just trying to do what I think is best. After all he has the degree and experience to prove it.
4.) Leaving should be a last resort
Doctors everywhere treat dozens of patients a day and work crazy schedules meaning that a lot can fall through the cracks. However, leaving means you need to start all over somewhere else. And since all doctors go through similar training, you are bound to find the same issues wherever you go. It’s how you deal with them that will guarantee better quality of care. Leaving should only result if you have tried your part and are seeing no resolution or improvement.
To hold a better, effective relationship with your doctor and in turn, give yourself better care, there needs to be good, strong and open communication. But in the age when most Millennials are foregoing a regular doctor for more immediate means, it goes to show that this is the wrong course of action. It is more important now than ever that both doctors and patients alike understand and consider time and communication when interacting with one another. If Millennials take care of their health now, including building a good relationship with their doctor, they can enjoy the greatest potential of a healthy life!
The leading causes of death in America stem from a poor diet, a lack of exercise and our addiction to tobacco. So do your best to stay educated and informed while also being open and honest with your doctor. Give yourself the best chance at good quality care and a happy healthy life!