Guest Post: Finding the Right Doctor Is Critical to Health and Happiness
I’m excited to welcome Tali Wee as a guest blogger this week in honor of Lupus Awareness Month! You’ll find more info about her in the bio below.
As patients, doctors are our teachers, our mentors, our guidance through frightening decision-making and sometimes even our heroes. With their hard-earned knowledge, they can cure our ailments and treat our symptoms. Doctors also carry power with their titles; their judgment calls become the main influencers of our medical elections. It’s vital that we trust, respect and believe in our doctors. And isn’t it important that our doctors also believe in our shared vision of health?
To treat my autoimmune disease, I’ve seen many doctors throughout the last 15 years. Automatically I would give them my trust, hoping that they would be “the one” to fix me. But time and again, I felt frustrated and downright confused. Autoimmune disorders are still perplexing in Western medicine where every finding must be proven precisely with facts. Some of us carry blood, urine or genetic markers to test positive and confirm the hunches of our doctors. When patients test negative to all of their doctor’s hunches, the doctors can become discouraged and begin disbelieving their patients.
Unfortunately, this happened to me. I was told by the leading rheumatologist in the nation that my symptoms must be the result of a low pain threshold. I was 14 years old. Even then, I knew my two years of steroid treatment were not the best path to healing, especially if my doctor didn’t believe me. Since that day, I shook my doctor’s hand and never visited him again. With a bruised self-esteem, I tried naturopathic medicine and consulted with several other doctors over the years. Most importantly, I continued to search for the right doctor.
What I’ve learned, and Amber’s mother reiterates, is that patients must become their own best advocates. Doctors cannot see the future or know the full scope before performing tests. But good doctors listen to their patients, gather information and develop health strategies in partnership with their patients. That’s why we pay them the big bucks. If your experience with a particular doctor has been negative, then maybe it’s time to find a new one.
Luckily, my mom’s general practitioner recommended a young doctor she really trusted. I was ready to give it another try and after two visits I knew she was the one. This doctor believed me, was puzzled by the negative tests and inspired by the challenge of getting to the source of the pain. After about six months of treatment, she ran a bone scan. This was the first and only test that validated that my pain is real, and it even identified bone deterioration in the specific areas of discomfort. Even if we had done nothing else, my doctor’s persistence brought me peace of mind. Since then, we have taken a more aggressive approach to treatment since the scan revealed my 23-year-old bones looked like those of a 70-year-old woman.
Dr. Hsu was the first doctor who believed me foremost, aside from the science. If you’re struggling to find the right doctor to act as your health strategist, don’t give up. You know your body better than anyone, and should continue searching until you’re heard. Here are a few ways I measured my experiences when searching for my hero doctor.
1. Ask Around for Referrals
There is no shame in telling people you have an autoimmune disorder. In fact, I’ve found that it helps others understand me better. The more networking you can do, the more opportunity there will be to hear about a quality, caring doctor in the area.
2. Arrive With Questions
Always show up with a list of questions for the doctor. Be aware of how thoroughly the doctor or nurse answers those questions. If it’s a consultation, make a list of symptoms prior to the visit to be sure to mention all of the elements of your condition. If it’s a reoccurring appointment, keep track of any new symptoms and estimate the amount of time you ache in particular areas. Doctors should care about these details and address all patient concerns.
3. Analyze the Doctor’s Body Language
When I’m explaining a symptom, I want the doctor’s full attention. Watch for eye contact, emotion or concern. Good doctors want to help and will respond appropriately. Taking notes is normal, but if they are constantly looking at note pads instead of you, they aren’t absorbing the whole scope of the disorder. My doctor listens to my words, but told me about two years into treatment that she knows how I’m really doing by my energy in the room. That’s an attentive doctor!
4. Evaluate Post-Appointment Influence
After meeting with the doctor, think about how you feel. This is the most impactful aspect of measuring a great doctor. You should feel encouraged that you’re taking action to get well, feel empowered with a plan and relieved that you and the doctor are on the same page. If you’re anything but reassured, it’s time to reach out for referrals.
5. Consider Your Anxiety Level Before the Next Appointment
I look forward to the next visit with my doctor because she always makes me feel better about my condition and plan of action. Sometimes I dread it because I haven’t done my homework of physical activity. But I don’t ever feel anxious about my appointment or treatment. If you’re feeling appointment anxiety it’s a red flag that you and your doctor are not a good match!
6. Gauge The Office Mood
Is the doctor’s office a positive place to visit? Most medical offices are highly sterile and somewhat intense, which is okay because it makes me feel like they take health seriously. But, if the staff isn’t helpful or kind then it’s probably not an area where great work is taking place. Try to find a cohesively functioning team of doctors, nurses and administrative staff. That way, you can trust all parties involved in your health.
Since finding the right doctor, I’m empowered by my treatment plan. I have control of my inflammation and medicate my bone deterioration appropriately. This proper treatment dramatically changed my life for the better, which was made possible by finding a doctor who believed and cared for me. I encourage you to share your experiences with others in your area to spread the word about great doctors and get everyone the help they deserve.
Tali Wee currently blogs about life in the Northwest and handles the community outreach for Zillow. She owns Wee Picket Fences where she writes about being a foodie, new homeowner, bargain hunter and activity enthusiast. Tali enjoys family, food, travel, writing and spending time on projects around the house.