Skilled doctors are busy people and tend to be very intelligent. Some of the mystique that surrounds doctors places them above most others on the social ladder. Not only that, but doctors tend to be “experts” in the very thing you need help with. It’s difficult for many people to think of doctors or talk with doctors as people.
And there are some doctors who actually encourage this problem. I imagine everyone knows of at least one example of a doctor who acts as if he believes he’s a god. “Here’s the answer. Don’t question me,” is their message. I know a plumber with the same attitude, though, so it’s not just doctors who may relish an “expert” role.
How does one talk with a doctor?
Here are a few important tips I’ve found to be useful in talking with my wife’s doctors.
First, remember this: doctors are just like other people. Behind their clinical white coat, they have the full range of human emotions to deal with – hope, sadness, stress, joy, frustration, etc. They have financial stresses and family stresses. Doctors are tired. They often feel impotent when they can’t effect a cure or relief. They live with hope and fear like all of us. And they participate in the medical struggles of a crowd of people. Being a doctor carries enormous ethical, financial and legal responsibilities. It’s a tough job.
Second, keep in mind (even though you’re paying for your time with the doctor) other patients are in the waiting room. Expect your doctor to be personable and informative, but don’t expect your doctor to talk with you about the weather or to be your “buddy, friend and pal”. Respect your doctor’s time.
Third, ask questions and ask for clarification when you need it. Good doctors want their patients to fully understand their treatment and disease. Don’t be afraid to ask, “can you explain that to me in everyday terms?”
Fourth, remember your doctor is not the only expert in the room. You know about you. You experience the side effect of your medications. You know where it hurts. You are the expert on you. Expect your doctor to know a whole lot more than you about treating MS, but your doctor should expect you to know more than him about how MS is treating you.
Fifth, laws regarding confidentiality of patient information may limit what a doctor can or will tell a caregiver. Without the patient’s permission, do not expect a doctor to talk with you in detail. If you are the patient, however, expect your doctor to share freely the information you request.
Sixth, do your own research. The internet is probably the best invention of our lifetimes. While much of the information available on the ‘net is questionable, never before have patients had access to so much good information about medicine. You can search the web for new research, medication information, reports about doctors and clinics, helpful tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis … there a world-wide web of information available.
Seventh, share research with your doctor when you believe it can be helpful to you. One way to initiate a conversation about treatment issues like this is to print the web page describing research you’ve found and share it with your doctor. Most will be thankful that you’ve shared information and it will give you both a reference point to start a conversation.
Of course, in addition to these, I’m sure you can think of other tips to make it easier to talk with a doctor. But I’ll end with this – if your doctor is too rude, too “clinical”, won’t talk, etc. you may want ot find a better doctor. There are far too many doctors who are caring, skilled, and informative to tolerate the rare MD who promotes the “god complex”.
Finally, a long relationship with a great doctor can make living with MS easier. If you’ve got a good patient-doctor relationship, appreciate it and thank your doctor!
Caregiver Tip: MS patients and caregivers must communicate with their doctors. There’s no better way to facilitate a good relationship and make living with MS easier.