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What Doctors Want From Patients

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What do doctors want from patients?  What helps doctors give you the best care?

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 them to do another season of Mad Men. Just kidding. 🙂


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