Does your doctor consider you a “difficult patient?” Maybe you don’t know what your doctor thinks about you, but his or her perceptions could be important when it comes to your health. A new study has discovered that about one quarter of all patients is considered difficult, and they’re more likely than others to stay sick.
In the study, researchers surveyed 750 adults who visited an internal medicine walk-in clinic. They also surveyed physicians who treated the patients and found that the doctors rated about 18% of the patients as being difficult.
Okay — but what makes a patient difficult, you are likely asking yourself at this point? Are they patients with complex medical conditions? Not so, according to the researchers. “Difficult” patients are characterized as having lots of unexplained physical symptoms, lots of stress, or extremes of pain and discomfort, or they may be struggling with anxiety and depression disorders.
How did being perceived as difficult affect the patients? They were 2.4 times more likely to have worse symptoms two weeks after their visit and to report that their expectations weren’t met.
Not all this so-called difficulty rests with the patient, however. The researchers also found that physicians with fewer than 10 years of experience reported that almost one in four patient visits were difficult, while those with 20 or more years of experience ranked the number as just two percent.
You can avoid getting a difficult label from your doctor by making sure that you follow your doctor’s input. Getting professional advice and then ignoring it while continuing to complain about symptoms will not improve your relationship with your doctor, nor is it likely to benefit your health. For your doctor’s part, he or she shouldn’t just shoo you in and out of the office quickly, with no time for you to address health complaints fully.
To build trust and better understanding with your doctor, try the following tips:
—Be mindful of the doctor’s limited time. Realistically, your appointment will likely last 10 to 20 minutes.
—Be concise with your communication. Prepare questions ahead of time.
—Ask the meaning of words and concepts you don’t understand.
—Ask your doctor what comes next — it will help build confidence in the process you are following for improved health.
—Know which questions to ask your doctor and which ones to save for others. Ask the front desk staff for directions to a medical clinic, for example, instead of shortening your appointment with such details.
—Make sure your doctor is respectful. When you are sick or injured, you feel vulnerable. Your doctor should respond compassionately to this vulnerability.
—Cultivate reasonable expectations. Expecting a doctor to find a remedy for 10 ailments in a single appointment probably isn’t realistic.