You have been experiencing a mix of symptoms for a while, fatigue, headaches, muscle soreness, and shortness of breath. Wondering if it’s something like stress or a more serious condition, you visit your doctor with the hopes of getting some answers. But instead, your doctor gives you a quizzical look and sends you on your way with more questions than you originally came in with.
During your visit, you didn’t feel “heard”. Maybe the doctor keyed in on only a few symptoms, was quick to give a prescription medication, or dismissed your symptoms altogether. The inability to find the common thread that could lead to the diagnosis you hoped for makes you feel disappointed and frustrated.
Know you are not alone in feeling this way. Most people leave the doctor’s office feeling unsatisfied with their experience and may turn to other resources in hopes of getting answers. All symptoms are connected, sometimes the connection is more subtle than others. Instead of leaving patients to connect the dots themselves, here are a few things people wished their doctor would do:
Admit when they don’t know
When faced with sudden and unwanted symptoms, it can be scary. The goal of seeking medical advice from a professional is to get some answers as to what might be causing them. But the truth is, sometimes doctors can run every diagnostic test that could give you the answers you are looking for, and they still can’t give a precise diagnosis. And that’s ok! As the old saying goes, honesty is the best policy. If a doctor can’t identify an accurate cause and provide the right treatment, being transparent and admitting that they aren’t sure or it’s out of their scope of expertise is the best way to go.
Listen to all my symptoms
Generally, there are a certain set of symptoms that are associated with specific illnesses. Major depressive disorder, for example, is associated with feelings of sadness, appetite changes, and loss of energy. But there are hidden symptoms of depression, like physical pain, headaches, and increased alcohol use, that can often be overlooked or dismissed as “everyday problems”.
When looking toward a professional for help, it’s important they factor in all symptoms – even if some of them may not fit within the standards. This can help reach a more accurate diagnosis, allows patients to feel like they are heard, and prove that all their symptoms matter.
Consider holistic treatment
Some conditions cannot be treated with a simple prescription medication or one method of treatment. Instead, they may require a more holistic approach. Holistic medicine aims to improve health and wellness through the body, mind, and soul. This means incorporating different types of professionals, like naturopaths, osteopaths, therapists, or spiritual advisors. A holistic doctor treats the body as one, trying to find the root cause of the illness rather than just fixing the symptoms – which is often what medications do.
Rather than writing a prescription that might work to treat the symptoms, it’s best for the long term to identify the root cause and treat it accordingly.
Medical gaslighting happens to millions of people every year. Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation that creates self-doubt and can make someone question their sanity, reality, or memories. If you’ve ever left a doctor’s appointment feeling more confused or ‘crazy’ about the symptoms you’re experiencing, there’s a chance your doctor could be gaslighting you.
While gaslighting can sometimes be difficult to spot, some tell-tale signs include being dismissed, minimizing symptoms, placing blame on the patient, or disregarding previous test results. The doubt and uncertainty is harmful to a patient’s mental and physical health and may prevent the right treatment. If you think you’re experiencing medical gaslighting, be sure to speak to friends and family about your experience and seek a second opinion.
Show more empathy
Living with any chronic illness, or even an acute one, is hard. Some days you may feel like you can run a marathon and others, you may be in so much pain that just the thought of getting out of bed seems impossible. When the day-to-day can vary to extremes, having an empathic physician with a good bedside manner can make a significant impact on your treatment.
A recent study showed that whether a physician’s bedside manner was good or bad, 20% of patients indicated that their physician’s demeanor greatly influenced how they felt coming out of an appointment. When physicians are not aware of how they say certain things, especially when discussing test results or treatment protocols, patients and caregivers are left facing those realities on their own.
Provide more education
In today’s world, patients have easy access to quality information. A quick Google search, an online chat with a doctor, or a discussion with another person who is living with the same condition as they are, can give people tons of knowledge about their condition and symptoms. However, many patients experience resistance from their doctor when they bring the information they found from outside sources to their appointments.
Patients today want to be more proactive in their healthcare management, so as a doctor, they should be encouraging patient engagement. Instead of forcing patients to find answers on their own, provide patients with the education and resources they need to be informed about their condition, symptoms, and treatment. Starting with the “why” helps patients better understand their care plan and as a result, are more likely to adhere to it. Additionally, it gives patients more power in their care and helps build a better physician-patient relationship.
Creating a Balanced Relationship
For a successful physician-patient relationship, there needs to be balance between the pair. Patients want physicians to listen, respect, and understand what they are going through during their diagnosis and treatment process. Likewise, physicians want patients to know they have their best interests at heart, respect the treatment protocols they recommend and provide them with the support they need for their condition. By finding a balance in the physician-patient relationship, patients feel heard in their experiences and needs – and physicians can better help fulfill those needs.
If you’re having difficulty connecting with a doctor about your symptoms and find you need support, PatientsLikeMe has over 800,000 members with hundreds of different conditions. Connecting with others who have the same conditions as you helps you better understand your condition, learn about different treatments, and get the support you need as you begin the recovery process.