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How to Fail as an Arthritis Patient

Actions That Undermine Your Medical Care


Updated June 27, 2014

Photo by Marcin Balcerzak (iStockphoto)

We have all heard it said many times before -- a good doctor-patient relationship is essential. That's especially true for people with chronic diseases, such as arthritis, who need to see their doctor on a regular basis.

Despite this realization, some patients act in ways that contribute to a failed doctor-patient relationship. Here are 10 actions that over time, if unchanged, will contribute to an unsuccessful doctor-patient relationship. You will earn an "F" as a patient if you:

Are Non-Compliant With Your Treatment Plan

Doctors formulate a treatment plan based on your diagnosis. You are expected to follow your doctor's orders, whether that involves medications, exercise, physical therapy, or any other treatment modality. If you don't agree with what has been prescribed, discuss it with your doctor. Ignoring your doctor's directives, without discussing it, is unacceptable.

Don't Inform Doctor of Important Issues

Your input is valuable to your doctor. Decisions and recommendations are, in part, based on what you disclose to your doctor. It is your obligation to inform your doctor about anything that is pertinent to your condition (e.g., new symptoms, medication side effects, change in pain level). Lack of full disclosure is failure on the patient's part.

Have Not Taken Time to Learn About Arthritis

Once you are diagnosed with arthritis, or any other condition for that matter, it is important that you learn about the disease. You should acquire a base of knowledge about arthritis by reading recommended books or from well-respected sources on the Internet. The knowledge helps you understand what your doctor is talking about during your consultations and helps you formulate relevant questions. If you don't learn about the disease, you are not fully invested in your care.

Blame Doctor for Not Curing Your Arthritis

Since there is no cure for arthritis, it is unreasonable to blame your doctor for not making your symptoms vanish. If you are unsatisfied with your response to your current treatment, discuss it with your doctor. There are several treatment options. You and your doctor can decide together if it is appropriate to change your treatment. When things aren't going your way, blaming your doctor or viewing him as the enemy is the wrong approach.

Think You Are Smarter Than the Doctor

While I have emphasized the importance of learning about arthritis and staying well-informed, make no mistake, it will not be the equivalent of going to medical school. I'm a little surprised how often I see a patient express dismay over something their doctor said or did. On social media, patients sometimes unload on their doctor, give them unflattering nicknames, and express considerable frustration. Sometimes, doctors are rushed by their busy schedule. They don't always say everything perfectly or take time to explain in the detail that you deserve. They are human. If you truly feel you are smarter than your doctor, you need another doctor.

Do Not Pay Attention or Comprehend What Doctor Says

Too often, I hear patients say that they don't remember what their doctor said or that they didn't understand what was said. It is our responsibility, as patients, to understand our diagnosis, our treatment plan, and any other recommendations or advice offered by our doctor. Some patients nod agreeably as their doctor is speaking, only to forget all of it just minutes later. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor to write something down or to repeat important information. If you leave your doctor's office feeling that he didn't understand you or you didn't understand him, you have failed communication.

Have Unrealistic Expectations of the Doctor

It is important to realize exactly what your doctor can do for you and to know what to expect. Your doctor can diagnose diseases and conditions, prescribe appropriate treatment for the condition, monitor the effectiveness of treatment and the progression of your disease. Your doctor cannot cure an incurable disease, read your mind, prescribe illegal quantities of pain medication, or make recommendations that are medically unsound. Unrealistic expectations undermine the doctor-patient relationship.

Repeatedly Cancel Follow-Up Appointments

I think it is safe to say that going to the doctor is not on anyone's "favorite thing to do" list. But, it is necessary. If you have arthritis, you will need to see your doctor regularly so that your disease can be monitored. All of us have had to cancel an appointment on occasion for unexpected reasons, but cancelling should be the exception and not the norm. Only cancel when absolutely necessary and re-schedule as soon as possible. Doing otherwise is irresponsible.

Do Not Value Your Doctor's Time

I often hear patients complain about how long they wait at the doctor's office. This can be a legitimate problem, especially when doctors overbook the number of patients they can see in a day. Just as doctors should respect their patient's time, patients also need to respect their doctor's time. For example, being consistently late for appointments shows disrespect for your doctor's time. Steering the conversation away from medical topics and the real reason you are there shows that you don't value your doctor's time. A bit of pleasantry and chit-chat is nice but I have been in the doctor's office and overheard another patient talking about the latest celebrity news for 25 minutes. Another time, a patient was telling the doctor her neighbor's knee hurt. The doctor had to stop her and say "I need to ask about you. I can't help your neighbor." Be reasonable and never lose sight of the fact that you are not your doctor's only patient.

Continue With a Doctor You Don't Respect

Sometimes a patient and a doctor simply don't work well together. There can be several reasons, including poor communication, lack of trust and confidence in the doctor, uncompassionate bedside manner and more. When differences cannot be resolved, it is best to find a new doctor. It's up to you to know when to fire your doctor and move on. Sticking with a bad doctor will not serve you well.

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