I recently spoke to a wellness group on how to engage with your local doctor. I offered 3 steps and some practical advice for them. I'll explore the 3 steps in a future post, but wanted to share the practical advice now, because it comes from one of my favorite TV characters: Andy Griffith.
Yes, the slow-talking, southern gentleman who sheriffs the little town of Mayberry, North Carolina. It's one of my all-time favorite shows and so it's no surprise to me (although it may be to you!) that living like Andy can help you in the doctor's office.
- Be kind and curious. The Southern phrase "You catch more flies with honey than vinegar" is true. Kindness can get you a long way. Even if you had a frustrated nurse or a rushed doctor during your last visit, that doesn't mean the same thing will happen this time. You can help set a positive tone for the conversation, which may make a difference!
Andy wasn't only kind - he was curious. He asked questions, and it was usually those questions that led him to realize what was really going on in a situation. When a doctor prescribes a new medicine, ask them why! What are the side effects? What issue does it treat? How long will you need to take it?
If the doctor gives a new diagnosis, ask why he/she thinks so! What symptoms of yours match with it, and which symptoms aren't explained by it? What are other possible diagnoses?
What's his/her long term plan of care for you? If this current treatment isn't effective, what's the next step?
You have a right to ask questions and understand the full scope of your doctor's care.
- Move slowly. Do not rush or be rushed. It's very possible that the doctor's office is abuzz with activity. There may be dozens in the waiting room and the staff's frazzled facial expressions let you know it's a crazy day. None of that should change how much attention you get. So when your doctor walks through the door, that's your time - take it!
If your doctor looks like he/she is headed out of the door too quickly, say something like, "Thank you for your help. I have more thoughts on it, if you could give me a few seconds to put them together - I'd like your feedback."
You should not be an inconvenience to your doctor. If they will not stay in the room with you, it's time to find a doctor who values you as a patient.
- Be principled and sure. Know ahead of time what you feel comfortable with and what you don't. So if you know you don't want to take hormonal contraception or pursue IVF, stand firm on those decisions in the exam room. Don't be afraid to ask, "What are my other options?" They likely did not know your feelings on those issues before, and should be able to provide other alternatives or resources.
Andy Griffith always got the job done, but never by being a bully. He was notorious for never carrying a gun. He was simply confident and sure of his role in the situation, and you can be, too.
If you feel you have to be overly aggressive in order to be heard or your doctor refuses to honor your principles, I recommend finding another doctor who will engage in conversation more willingly.
- Partner up. Andy didn't do it alone. He always had Barney (for better or worse). Bring someone trusted with you to the appointment, like a friend, family member, spouse, or neighbor. They can provide moral support, help you remember your questions, and even take notes. Often, they can hear what the doctor says in a more objective way, because they are less invested. This can make a big difference!
Leave the kids at home, though. It can be difficult to fully focus on your time with your doctor with children in the room, and can prevent you from being completely honest with questions and concerns.
The tips above are a little light-hearted, because they are for fairly healthy doctor-patient relationships, These are helpful when patients feel shy or unsure about how to approach a question. If your doctor is belittling, abusing, or mistreating you - I have a totally different set of advice: leave. You deserve to be heard and respected as a patient and a person.