Category Archives: patient advocacy

How to be the World’s Worst Patient

Please be aware: This post is sarcastic. I am not truly suggesting you do the “recommendations” the post shares. Keep that in mind as you read. Please also keep in mind that the issues discussed in this post only apply to a few select practitioners, not to all of them. 

If you’ve spent any time with me on my blog or my Facebook page, you know I strongly encourage everyone to be their owndoc health advocate. This post is the result of experiences some people had when they became their own health advocate. Unfortunately, their experiences were not all positive. It is sad that many mainstream physicians refuse to acknowledge that no one knows a body better than the person living in it.

We live in a world where many mainstream physicians spend a maximum of five to ten minutes with their patients. During that time, the physician is expected to listen to all of a patient’s symptoms and concerns, make a complete diagnosis, and prescribe a treatment protocol. This creates an environment where patients often feel ignored or rushed. It also creates a ripe opportunity for missed diagnoses since patients often do not have time to share the complete details of their health issues. In the old days, doctors were revered almost as gods. The thought that an MD could make a mistake or that it was acceptable to disagree with one’s physician was unthinkable. Times have changed, medicine has changed, and those days are over. Today, it is essential to be your own health advocate. There is no other way to ensure you get the care you need.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many wonderful MDs out there who would do anything to help their patients. I’m often encouraged to hear inspiring stories of people whose lives were saved or radically improved because a physician listened to them, ran tests no one else had thought to, or used holistic treatment methods. Unfortunately, there are also many physicians who let their pride and arrogance stand in the way of helping their patients. 

In the course of a typical day, I regularly speak with people who share horror stories of a physician ignoring their physical symptoms, refusing to provide copies of test results or discuss additional testing options, or who were FIRED from a practice because they challenged what was later proven to be a wrong diagnosis.  Many people come to see me because they know I respect their knowledge and because they know my goal is to find the cause of the problem instead of merely masking the symptoms. The horror stories I’ve heard about how people were treated by their physician have occasionally brought me to tears. The fact I went through it myself makes it easy to empathize.

Based on those stories, following is a list of “cardinal sins” you should always be sure to commit in assembly line medical practices to be considered the world’s worst patient:

  1. Do research: The worst thing you can do is to come into a doctor’s appointment with a strong body of knowledge. Your doctor spent eight years in medical school. How dare you presume to do your own research! This makes the doctor presume you think you know more than he does. Harming his or her ego is an unforgivable error. Your best bet is to remain completely, totally ignorant and to rely on your distracted physician to take a complete health history, order the correct tests, correctly diagnose you and write a prescription in under five minutes. They have practice quotas to fill, after all.
  2. Ask your doctor to run tests he or she did not order: Silly, silly patient … do you seriously think you know more about what tests are appropriate and about your own body than your doctor does? How dare you question his wisdom! Just do what you’re told to and trust s/he knows better than you do. On a serious note … I’m not talking about asking your doctor to run unnecessary or extreme tests, I’m talking about asking your doc to add simple blood tests to the blood work s/he ordered, or to request a different type of test if your research has shown the type of test that was ordered is potentially incorrect or insufficient. Never forget that you are in charge. Your doctor works for you. You hired him or her and you have the right to request specific tests. Be prepared to prove and justify your request, but know that you definitely have the right to request additional testing if you believe it’s warranted.
  3. Refuse a prescription: The best option for every condition under the sun is obviously a prescription, so don’t you dare ask to try to address something without a prescription. How dare you! Again on a serious note, I’m not talking about refusing a life-saving prescription or refusing to take a prescription to control a condition that could cause permanent damage, such as Type 1 diabetes or high blood pressure. I’m talking about asking your doctor to consider other options for mild conditions that are often corrected using lifestyle changes. A non-prescription approach is sometimes very valuable for issues where your blood work is normal but on the verge of being abnormal.
  4. Request a different prescription: Again, how dare you presume that you know more than your physician! I was once fired as a patient because I requested a more natural alternative prescription (prescription – not supplement) for my thyroid condition. I happily shook the dust off my feet and moved on without looking back. The end result was that the alternative prescription, from a natural source was an absolute life-changer that brought my blood levels to normal for the first time in years. The bottom line is that many new pharmaceuticals are put on the market each year. It is virtually impossible for your physician to know everything there is to know about every available prescription medication. Additionally, some health conditions have multiple prescription options. Many MDs fall into the habit of only prescribing one or two, usually because the sales rep for those meds did a really good job. No MD can say he or she knows every side effect for every pharmaceutical. I once had a client who told his physician the medication the doctor prescribed was known to cause kidney damage. The physician very condescendingly told him he was wrong. This poor man came to see me because his kidney function fell to 40% after taking that prescription. If you are aware of side effects your physician is not, feel free to share your concerns and request an alternative. Take documentation proving your concerns if needed. If your MD refuses to consider your request, it may be time to interview new physicians. (On a side note to thyroid patients, hair loss is a known side effect of Synthroid that is listed in the patient information sheet, yet many physicians are unaware of and deny that side effect. If hair loss is an issue and you’re on Synthroid or one of its generic alternatives, it may be time to consider alternatives and to make sure your dosage is correct.) My current nurse practitioner often suggests prescriptions and always says they have no side effects. I adore her, but she’s wrong. I know from experience that doing your own research is essential when it comes to prescription side effects.
  5. Mention another doctor: Silly, silly patient … are you foolish enough to think that two heads are better than one and that another doctor’s opinion might help provide more insight into your care? Blasphemy! It often makes sense to get a second opinion. I’ve spoken with patients who maintain relationships with three or more different holistic MDs and natural practitioners simply because they want a variety of opinions and options. Having multiple doctors doesn’t express a lack of faith in one, it simply communicates that you want the broadest depth of expertise possible. It is fine to see different practitioners. There is a limit, however. Running from doctor to doctor in search of one who will tell you what you want to hear never works. Use common sense. If you come across a doc who is offended you have more than one doctor, it may be time to move on.

There you have it. So, tell me: Are you a “good” patient or “bad”? Have you ever experienced any of these points? What “sins” would you add to the list? Please share your opinion of this perspective!

Graphic courtesy of Alan O’Rourke. Use of this graphic in no way implies the photographer’s support of this subject matter or of the opinions expressed by the author.