Inside: Have you ever left an appointment thinking, “Help! My doctor is not helping me?” Read on to discover the steps you can take when it feels like your doctor isn’t listening.
If there seems to be a pattern in that every time you leave the doctor’s office you’re feeling like your doctor isn’t helping you, then you may have a bad doctor.
You have the right to get the help that you need.
What do you do when your doctor isn’t helping you?
The first step is assessing your previous doctor’s appointments. Try not to do this directly after an appointment when you’re likely to feel irritated. Wait a couple of days when you can calmly ask yourself questions like:
- Have I seen this doctor enough times to have a fairly accurate depiction of their bedside manner?
- Was the doctor was sympathetic to my symptoms?
- Did I talk about my symptoms in a succinct manner?
- Was there a lack of communication during the appointment?
- Did I ask questions?
- Has the doctor created any type of action plan for me? Did they suggest possible alternatives?
I think it’s really important to understand the basics of how our healthcare system works so that you can be better equipped for your appointment. Unfortunately, doctors have a short amount of time to spend with each patient. Therefore, you must describe only your most prominent symptoms clearly, quickly, and without unnecessary minutiae.
Think about all the times that you’ve listened to someone tell a story and thought, “OMG, I don’t need to know what you ate for breakfast that day! Get to the point!”
It’s kind of the same premise for doctors. Sometimes your symptoms aren’t getting ignored. They’re just getting lost in a sea of irrelevant details.
How to Describe Medical Symptoms to Your Doctor?
According to U.S. News, in addition to describing your symptoms simply and quickly, “Presenting a symptom with a strong analogy can be a good way to go.”
For instance, one doctor said, “When patients say something like, ‘I’m having this headache and it feels like a hammer going off and beating on the one side of my skull,’ I remember that description vividly,” he says. “In one sentence, it tells me that it’s unilateral – on one side of the head – and it’s a throbbing, pounding headache; it might wind up being a cluster headache, just because of that description.”
Make sure to leave the medical jargon to the doctors. Your job is to tell them as specifically as possible how a symptom is making you feel.
What to do if your doctor dismisses you?
If you’ve had at least a couple of appointments and explained your symptoms in an impactful way, but it still feels like your doctor is dismissing you, then it’s time to come up with an action plan.
1. Do your research.
If having health problems wasn’t bad enough, now have to be your own advocate, too. This is the reality of being sick. If it feels like you’re being dismissed by your doctor, try searching information about your symptoms using PubMed®. Gather a list of only the most relevant articles and present them to your doctor at your next appointment. They likely won’t be able to ignore you when the facts are staring them in the face.
2. Ask deliberate questions.
If it seems like your symptoms are being ignored then try asking deliberate questions like, “What might this [insert your symptom] mean?” or“What do I do if these symptoms get worse?”
These types of questions help the doctor to stop and think critically. They’re less likely to have a canned response and will put them in a position to see you from a new perspective – an assertive person who confidently questions authority.
3. Become a knowledgeable patient.
Learn about routine and preventative screenings that should be performed for patients exhibiting your symptoms. You should also factor in routine screenings depending on your age, gender, and race.
The next time that you’re at the doctor ask them to schedule these screenings for you or refer you to someone who can.
4. Get a second opinion.
If you’ve done all of the steps above and it still feels like your doctor is not helping you, it’s probably time to find a new one. It’s your right to have a medical practice you can trust.
Even if healthcare professionals are under severe time constraints, that doesn’t mean they should dismiss your concerns and symptoms. If you’ve been thinking, “My doctor is not helping me,” then ask for a referral to a specialist or go to a different practice for a second opinion. A fresh set of eyes can mean the difference between you getting diagnosed or not.
Final Thoughts on HELP! My doctor is not helping me.
If it feels like you’re not getting the help that you need from your doctor, the next step is to create an action plan. If you like your doctor but still feel like they’re not helping you in the way that they should, try things like asking more deliberate questions or doing your own research.
On the other hand, you may be incredibly frustrated and know that there’s no point in scheduling another appointment with the same doctor. In that case, it’s good to get a second opinion.
The most important thing is that you get the help that you need.
Have you ever been to a doctor you didn’t feel like was helping you? What did you do? Tell me in the comments below.
Allie Schmidt is a rare disease advocate and disabled mom living with motor neuron disease. She founded Disability Dame in 2020 to provide tips to other moms living with disabilities and chronic illnesses.
In her spare time, you can find her traveling with her husband (she's been to 38 states and 16 countries!), watching reruns of Survivor, or tending to her near-constant sunburn from spending too much time outside. You can follow her adventures here.