By Trudie Mitschang
I read an article last year that posed the intriguing question: “Do you suffer from good patient syndrome?” Applying the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” analogy, the author went on to describe how patients who worry about how they are perceived by healthcare providers may inadvertently compromise the quality of medical care they receive. Take a look at the following questions, and see where you land when it comes to being a physician-pleaser:
- Do you worry about what your doctor thinks of you?
- Do you worry about insulting your doctor?
- Do you worry about sounding stupid in front of your doctor?
- Do you think repeatedly about finding a new doctor, but never get around to it?
- Are you afraid to tell your doctor you’d like a second opinion?
- Do you stick with a doctor who’s been treating you for the same problem for a long time, even though you are not getting any better?
- Do you stop asking question when you don’t get satisfying answers from your doctor?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, you are a “good” patient and that can be a bad thing. Research confirms that physicians treat “nice” patients more paternalistically than their more outspoken counterparts. While some patients may feel more secure leaving important decisions to their doctor, patients with chronic illnesses often fare better when they are actively involved in their treatment plans. If we don’t speak up for ourselves, who will?
Many of us have spent years either consciously or unconsciously being good patients, and breaking this bad habit can be difficult. Consider these tips to go from passive to empowered during office visits:
- Ask as many questions as you need to. If you don't understand something, ask for clarification, and if you still don't understand, ask again. The doctor or nurse might become annoyed, but that shouldn't stop you. Your health depends on your ability to comprehend medical instructions.
- Don't be concerned if your doctor likes you. The doctor/patient relationship is a business transaction not a social visit. Unless your doctor is also your brother-in-law, putting the doctor’s feelings above your own could jeopardize your health. On a related topic, if you really don’t like your doctor, consider switching to someone whose bedside manner is more suited to your needs.
- Remember the doctor is working for you, not the other way around. You're paying the doctor for a service, and while you should certainly be respectful (just as you're respectful to a waitress or your car mechanic), you shouldn’t have to continually smile and nod to receive the caliber of medical care you deserve.
Years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, I was thrilled to nab a respected OB-GYN in my area as my doctor. Every mom I met raved about Dr. P. The trouble was, I simply didn’t like her. I found her manner cold and impersonal, her schedule was always overbooked, and she was condescending in her tone, constantly reminding me of the risks I faced as an “older mom.” But I kept going because I thought switching doctors would be a hassle. After one particularly disheartening visit, a co-worker noticed my downcast demeanor and asked what was wrong. After listening to me vent for 10 minutes, she looked me in the eye and said, “Why don’t you just switch doctors?” It was the call to action I needed. I phoned my HMO within the hour, found a wonderful new doctor who was a much better fit for me, and reduced my stress level significantly in the process. As for Dr. P., it’s doubtful she even noticed my absence.
How about you? Have you spent too many years being a “good patient?” Tell us about your experiences.