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What Doctors Want From Patients

January 18th, 2008 · 7 Comments

In my previous post, I highlighted what contributes to a good collaborative relationship between a patient and doctor.  Today I’ll expand on what doctors want from patients.

But first, 2 precautions, so this article isn’t taken the wrong way…

1.  Don’t worry about needing to be a “perfect” patient.

2.  These suggestions aren’t so your doctor’s life is better, but so you can help your doctor be able to give you the best treatment.)

How to be a “good” patient

1.  Be organized and focused

Both at your initial visit with a doctor, and at follow-up appointments, communicating important information about your health is crucial.  Have your medical history outlined, know what medications and procedures you’ve tried and the results.  Keep your focus on your health issues.

2.  Relate a clear story, without too much unnecessary detail

Time is at a premium in health visits today.  Ask yourself, Is this story or detail going to help my doctor help me?  If not, leave it out.  For example, instead of telling a long, rambling story to illustrate the point that your pain effects your ability to work, just say that directly.  Your doctor may ask for an example, in which case you can elaborate.

3.  Prioritize which symptoms/problems need to be focused on at each visit

For both new evaluations or follow-up visits, have 2-3 goals for a visit and write these down.  Presenting these at the outset gets you and your doctor on the same page as far as what to address.  Be realistic on what can be accomplished during 1 visit – there’s not usually time for more than a few issues.

4.  Keep a log of how you respond to each treatment

Pain logs are helpful to figure out what’s making things worse and what’s helping.  If you’re having many flare-ups, review your logs before the visit, so you can discuss what might be going on.  If you’re trying a new medication, pain management technique, or PT, be able to present what worked, what didn’t, and what questions you have about the new treatment.

5.  Follow through on taking medication, practicing pain management techniques, etc.

Your doctor can make treatment suggestions, but it’s up to you to put them into practice.  Take your medication as directed.  If there’s something that gets in the way of that – you don’t understand the directions, you’re having side effects, the medication’s too expensive – speak up about this.  If you’re to do relaxation exercises each day, do them.  If you’re to practice exercises at home between PT visits, do this.  Treatments will only work if you use them!

6.  Don’t be overly dramatic

Your doctor needs to know if your pain is severe, or if you’re having a hard time coping with pain.  But use language that can help your doctor help you.  Give a 1-to-10 rating of your usual daily pain, your worst daily pain, and how much your pain levels fluctuate.  Briefly describe what you can and can’t do when you have pain – this gives your doctor an indication of your functioning.

If you’re depressed or anxious, get a referral to a pain management therapist.  Many pain medicine doctors, for example neurologists and anesthesiologists, don’t have either the time or expertise to discuss your emotional state or help you cope better.  However, coping with pain is so important!  So get a referral to an appropriate person who can help you.

Phrases to avoid:

  • “my pain is 10/10 all day, every day”
  • “nothing helps”
  • “narcotics are the only thing that help”

7.  Don’t expect a miracle

It’s hard to continue to experience pain as your treatment unfolds.  However, for most people, that’s the reality of chronic pain treatment.  For some, full pain relief will come.  For many, unfortunately, their pain won’t be completely relieved.  But for most, treatment can get you to a better place, both decreasing pain and coping better with pain.  Try to be patient – if there were a faster, easier, or better way, your doctor would already be prescribing it.

And the last thing doctors want from patients…

8.  Fix the malpractice crisis, make medications less expensive, and get The Sopranos back on the air.

Just kidding.  🙂

For those readers who treat pain, what other suggestions do you have for patients?  For people with pain, what works well for you in interacting with your treatment team?

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7 responses so far ↓

  • Barbara K. // Jan 21, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    I actually kept a spread sheet of pain patterns correlated with time of day and possible stressors. My scientific minded specialists loved it – and I think they paid closer attention to my concerns and questions.

  • How to Cope with Pain // Jan 22, 2008 at 6:17 am

    Excellent suggestion. Doctors love data! And I think it makes reports of pain seem more objective, especially to those doctors who might downplay reports of high pain levels.

  • Marijke // Jan 22, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    Great post. Really good, helpful information.

  • Adam Becker Sr // Feb 6, 2008 at 10:53 am

    How to be a ‘good enough’ patient when not being a ‘good’ patient. I mean, how to tell your doc “I’m not going to follow your advice on this one,” without damaging the relationship?

    For example, my GP wants me to have a nuclear stress test. I’m diabetic (with excellent control); four years ago I had a stress test. I showed a very minor oddity (1 mm depressed ST segment at maximal exertion). He says he wants me to revisit it every few years ‘just to be sure’. The stress test would be a whole lot of radiation for only a little information on a minor problem. I’m much more interested in getting an EBCT to see if I’ve got coronary plaque. I strongly suspect my doc of practicing CYA medicine.

    So how to be a ‘good’ patient under such circumstances?

  • How to Cope with Pain // Feb 6, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Adam, great question. It may depend on both how good your relationship is with your doctor, as well as how “prickly” your doctor is, how easily he/she would take offense.

    Instead of just not getting the stress test and saying nothing, I’d recommend at least telling your doc that you’re not planning on getting one right away. This will give your doc a chance to tell you if she thinks you really need one, or if she does consider it optional. This is medical info you need to understand. Of course, you can still choose not to get the test, but at least you know what risks you’re taking by doing so.

    This also gives your doc a chance to perhaps suggest another test you would agree to. If you have a reasonable physician, he’s open to discussions of this type.

    Lastly, if this is the 100th test you’ve declined, it gives your doc a chance to say, “I think you’d be better off working with someone who’s advice you better agree with.” Or, if your MD flies off the handle, that can tell you perhaps you’d like to work with someone who likes a bit more give and take with patients.

    Good luck! Let us know how it goes.

  • Angela Harrington // Apr 3, 2010 at 10:25 am

    I would like to know if I can use this picture for a college paper I am writing about prescription medications and women over 40. I like this photo and it would work very well in my paper. This is for Axia College with the University of Phoenix. Thank you for your consideration. Angela

  • How to Cope with Pain // Apr 3, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Hi Angela,
    I just got the picture from the web, so it’s not mine.

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