I was in the waiting room dreading yet another appointment with my rheumatologist. It was nine months prior that I was diagnosed by my primary physician with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and I didn’t know what my doctor-patient relationship should look like. At that third appointment with Dr. “A,” I determined it was time for me to find a new doctor to treat my RA and fibromyalgia.
The Red Flags
How did I know when the time was right to find a new doctor? Here are the seven red flags that helped to make that decision.
- My doctor did not listen to me. Often times, it felt like Dr. A was not listening to my concerns. She would interrupt me or even repeat the same questions she previously asked. Moreover, at each visit, she seemed uninformed about my health and why I was there. It was as if I was seeing a new doctor at each appointment. Moreover, she refused to change my medications despite the side effects I endured. For example, I brought to her attention that my vision had worsened since I started on Plaquenil and she refused to acknowledge that this was a side effect of the medication and insisted that I continue taking it.
- I felt that she did not believe I was sick. My doctor was a rheumatologist and she still would not attribute some of my symptoms to RA. She would suggest things like stress and hormones. Further, even though she had diagnosed my fibromyalgia, she refused to prescribe anything for it. She told me to lose weight and change my diet. I could not understand the reasoning behind her thinking and it made me skeptical to share with her how I was feeling. Under her care, I was not getting better; I was getting worse.
- She dismissed any suggestions I had about alternative treatments. I was hesitant to discuss alternative treatments and supplements with my doctor because of the lectures I had gotten. She insisted that alternative treatments, such as supplements or massage therapy, did nothing to help me manage my RA and fibromyalgia symptoms.
- She would not consider any information that I found on the internet. Being employed in the legal field, I am a skilled researcher, but my doctor made me feel like I had no idea what I was talking about. In fact, when I brought in information that I found on the internet that came from credible sources, including the American College of Rheumatology, she would reject the information I had. She refused to acknowledge that there was a great deal of high quality and respected information on the internet.
- She could not see the bigger picture and how it affected me. I was a working mother and my life revolved around my job and family. Getting better also revolved around those things. I also had dreams and goals that I hoped to achieve but my doctor refused to acknowledge my anxieties and fears towards the future. I had tried to explain that my treatment had to help me accomplish daily tasks as well as plan for the future and these concerns went on deaf ears. Without specifically uttering the words, she discouraged me from believing that I could still have a good quality of life and a thriving future.
- She and her staff were rude and unresponsive. Not only did my doctor portray a “Do as I tell you and don’t ask questions” attitude, but her staff was also just as rude and as unresponsive as she was. I would end up having to wait for days to get prescription refills or I would have to call several times and often my calls were unreturned.
- She often kept me in the dark and was condescending towards me. Having found a doctor who I am happy with, I know that a good doctor is open and systematic when it comes why he or she is recommending a specific test and the results of that test. When I asked questions about what something meant or why a test was being ordered, Dr. A often used terms that I did not understand and often left me confused and uninformed. I was new to living with chronic illness and pain and I really needed examples and explanations, not medical jargon. When I told her I did not understand, she would become frustrated with me and tell not to worry or that the issue “did not matter anyway.”
My Current Doctor
I have since found a doctor that I am happy with and I now know what a successful doctor-patient relationship looks like. While my Dr. “M” and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything, I still find that our doctor-patient relationship is a partnership. She respects my time and I don’t feel rushed when I come in for my appointments. She is knowledgeable about my diagnosis, treatment, and lifestyle and does not have to rely on my chart for answers. She also takes the time to answer my questions and address my concerns. Moreover, she is open and thorough with me about all the tests she requests, why she is requesting them and she shares all results with me. She even personally calls me to discuss test results and does not rely on the nurses to communicate this information. Her staff is always polite and responsive; phone calls are returned quickly and prescription refills are called in to the pharmacy the same day.
An Important Relationship
Determining whether you need to find a new doctor is a difficult and personal decision. This is because your relationship with your doctor is one of the most important relationships you will ever have. After all, having a good relationship with your doctor will help you to live successfully with and despite chronic illness. After studying your relationship with your doctor and learning about my experience, I hope you now are better informed about whether your doctor-patient relationship meets your needs. Just remember: if you decide to find a new doctor, keep the current one until you find a better fit in case of an emergency or a major health crisis.