I’m Done Giving the Medical Field the Benefit of the Doubt

by Christine  - May 30, 2024

I’m done giving the medical field the benefit of the doubt.

I’ve given the medical field the benefit of the doubt for a long time. As someone moving through the world with three chronic conditions, I’ve had more medical appointments than most.

When I first began taking ownership for my chronic care journey, I considered that perhaps I wasn’t doing “enough” as a patient. I would come out of appointments not feeling seen or heard, and with no clear sense on what was going on or what was causing my symptoms. I blamed myself for the poor outcome. In response I made changes to how I approach my care including:

  • Investing time and energy in finding providers that were more likely to be a good fit for me and my symptoms. That looked like:
    - Moving from an HMO to a PPO so I could pick from a bigger pool of doctors and specialists instead of being assigned a provider;
    - Finding providers that could spend more time with patients, instead of the standard 10 to 15 minutes most primary providers are limited to;
    - Meeting with providers from multiple systems of medicine including allopathic, osteopathic, naturopathic and chiropractic;
    - And reading patient reviews so I could avoid the bad apples.
  • I became a “better” patient including:
    - Showing up to appointments prepared with a symptom log and list of key details to streamline diagnosis and make the most of the time with my provider;
    - Consistently adhering to provider recommendations;
    - And speaking up and asking questions whenever something was unclear.
  • I also de-risked other areas that could impact the quality of care I received by:
    - Keeping thorough records of medical tests, diagnoses, and treatment, and facilitating the transfer of medical records from one doctor’s office to another;
    - Reaching out to my doctor’s office to close the loop on outstanding matters;
    - Calling insurance to confirm coverage and receive estimates;
    - And engaging in slow, thoughtful, clear and intentional communication with all parties.

Regardless of the changes I made, a pattern persisted: I wasn’t seen or heard.

I continued to give the medical system the benefit of the doubt. I recognized that no human is perfect and that we all get it wrong sometimes. So I made my communications even clearer and was more thorough in my follow-up, but three recent events put the final nail in the coffin:

  1. I told a doctor that I responded better to supplement A than supplement B, even noting that while on supplement A symptoms that had plagued me for over a decade resolved. When I asked to be placed on supplement A, while updating my protocol, the doctor responded, “No, let’s put you on supplement B. The rep was here earlier today and said this is a superior product.” 🤦🏾‍♀️
  2. I spent four weeks going back and forth with my doctor’s office and insurance to get prior authorization for a follow-up mammogram on my right breast after discovering diagnostic mammograms are not always covered. (My right boob is fine.) Throughout the entire experience, from the discussion with my doctor to the completion of the prior authorization, I kept saying, “I’m calling about a follow-up mammogram for my right breast.” I arrived on the day of the exam to discover my doctor had submitted paperwork for a mammogram AND a sonogram on BOTH breasts. My communication was clear, thorough and consistent from beginning to end, and still I wasn’t heard.
  3. A family member had surgery recently and knew she did not respond well to a specific pain killer based on past experience. She told her doctor in advance and asked during pre-op that if she was going to be prescribed a painkiller that it not be that pain killer given her adverse reaction to it. The note was added to the file and yet she had to tell the hospital staff five times that she did not want the painkiller they were recommending because she has adverse reactions to it. No one heard her.

These examples might seem like outliers, but they’re not. They are more common that we’d care to admit and are one of the major drivers if not the major driver for the movement to alternative care.

Currently most associate the experience of not being heard with allopathic medicine, but what I’ve discovered through my own experience is that it is not specific to allopathic medicine. I have not been heard by doctors and health professionals across different medical systems. In fact, I’d propose this problem extends far beyond the medical field, but what makes it so challenging within healthcare is that healthcare ultimately requires partnership. Patients partner with providers to get answers to their questions and find relief. Like any important relationship, communication is key. You wouldn’t stay in a relationship with a romantic partner that didn’t hear you, so why would you continue working with a doctor or medical professional who wouldn’t either?

If you’ve faced a similar frustration in your healthcare journey: I see you, I hear you and you’re not alone.

I’m not going to pretend to know how we dig ourselves out this hole. I don’t have a crystal ball, and can’t see into the future. What I will do is share some potential solutions in hopes it will help begin a conversation on how we get from the current state of care where patients aren’t feeling seen and heard, to an improved state of care where they are.

Potential solutions include:

  • Reflecting: This is a skillset I learned in my coaching certification. It can be done in varying formats, but at the most basic level it is repeating back verbatim what someone said to you. You might say something along the lines of, “So if I’m hearing you correctly you…..” or “I am hearing you say….. Is that correct?” It’s a simple and straightforward skill, but taking the time to check-in with another person you are communicating with reduces misunderstandings and encourages one to actively listen. If you’re not actually listening, you won’t be able to reflect back to someone.
  • Teaming up: This is based off of a wonderful experience I had with a cardiologist and Physician’s Assistant (PA). (Yes, although it may come as a surprise I have had some good experiences with medical professionals. Unfortunately I can count them on one hand.) The two work together to treat patients. During my initial call with them, the cardiologist focused on communicating information to me and the PA focused primarily on listening and taking notes within the electronic records management system. Splitting the tasks of communicating and listening was highly effective. I’ve never felt more seen and heard by medical professionals. I also think splitting tasks may have relieved the doctor and PA of feeling like they had to do it all. I realize this setup is rare, but imagine if it was the norm. I think it would be a win-win for both medical professionals and patients.
  • Humility: This is the spiciest suggestion. It requires humility on the medical professional’s part. I believe the assumption that the medical professional knows best or knows more leads to a decreased inclination to listen. Medical professionals can become so confident that they have the answers and know what the patient will say, that they become more focused on their own response than actively listening to the patient.

Just some thoughts…

Be well fam. 

C

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The opinions above are my own at time of writing. I maintain the right to change my opinion at any moment, and believe that all humans can hold two conflicting views at one time. - C






About 

Christine

A trauma-informed nutrition coach. I work with individuals that are ready to take their health into their own hands, become the director of their own healing, and reconnect to the wisdom of their body.

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