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How to Be a Happy Arthritis Patient

Avoid Common Mistakes With Your Doctor

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Updated June 27, 2013

If you have arthritis, or any chronic condition, a good relationship with your doctor is essential. You must trust your doctor, and in general, feel satisfied with the care you receive. Too often, I hear arthritis patients express dissatisfaction with their doctor. Their complaints are sometimes legitimate, but sometimes not. When there is a problem, it's not always the doctor's fault. Patients must realize that some of the responsibility for creating and maintaining an effective doctor-patient relationship falls on them.

Here are some mistakes arthritis patients make which can undermine their relationship with their doctor and promote dissatisfaction. As you read the list, ask yourself if you fall into any of these categories.

Do You Feel That Your Doctor Doesn't Understand You?

This is the most common complaint that I hear. "My doctor doesn't understand me. He thinks I am faking my symptoms." If that is the case, you must work on your communication with your doctor. Since you are allotted a limited amount of time with your doctor, what you discuss must be direct and concise. Before my appointments, I typically prepare a list of things I want to bring to my doctor's attention. I prioritize what I want to discuss, too, should time run out.

It is your responsibility, as the patient, to make sure your doctor hears the most essential information or questions you have for him. Be direct and tell your doctor that what you are talking about is currently your biggest issue and you need his help. If you feel he isn't listening or paying full attention, politely and respectfully tell your doctor that you need his input and recommendation. Never leave the office feeling unheard or misunderstood. Doctors, like all humans, have different personalities and "bedside manner". Learn how to talk to your doctor. If it doesn't come easy, work on it. If it is impossible, get another doctor.

Do You Have Unrealistic Expectations of What Your Doctor Can Do?

A doctor is not a magician. A doctor must formulate a diagnosis using medical tests and imaging. He must put forth a treatment plan based on your medical history and current diagnosis. But, it won't be a cure. There is no cure for arthritis. You should know and understand the goal of each recommended medication or treatment. By understanding your treatment plan and keeping your expectations realistic, you won't be inclined to feel that your doctor isn't doing anything.

Do You Think You Know More About Arthritis Than Your Doctor?

There is a certain arrogance that sometimes develops among people who have had a chronic condition for a long period of time. It's as if they say "I know all about arthritis. I live it." There is a certain truth to that -- you do know your arthritis and your body better than anyone else could. But, to think you know more than your doctor can be a dangerous perspective. Throughout his career, your doctor has treated many patients. Their education, experience, and expertise is invaluable. Don't lose sight of who is the patient and who is the doctor.

Do You Wait Too Long to Make Requests?

There is a certain common courtesy that should exist between patients, doctors, and the doctor's office staff. If you need to request a refill, a report, or appointment -- try to allow enough time so the matter can be achieved smoothly without it needing to be treated as urgent. You are not your doctor's only patient. Be respectful of the time it will take to complete your request. By doing so, you will avoid frustration on both sides.

Are You Non-Compliant With Your Treatment Plan?

You must be fully compliant with the treatment plan your doctor has developed for you. If he prescribes medications for you, don't skip dosages and expect the result to be as good as if you were compliant. In other words, don't go rogue on your doctor. Follow his instructions. Keep follow-up appointments, so he can assess how you are doing. If there is any part of the treatment plan you disagree with, talk it over. Do not skip pills and then hide the fact.

Do You Lack Full Disclosure With Your Doctor?

Imagine this scenario. You are experiencing severe knee pain. Your family coaxes you to see your doctor. You make an appointment and go, but never tell your doctor about your severe knee pain. When you return home and tell your family about the appointment, you admit that you didn't discuss your painful knee. You admit to being afraid he would order an MRI and you hate MRIs. But, this is a huge problem -- a doctor can only help with what he knows about. If you don't disclose important details, you fail to help yourself and fail to allow your doctor to help you. Full disclosure is essential. Never conceal.

Are You Frustrated by Long Wait Times?

Some doctors consistently run behind schedule. It's not uncommon to wait between 1 or 2 hours before your name is called. It may be that they schedule appointments too close together or they give quality time to each of their patients. Nevertheless, it is unpleasant to be kept waiting. Aside from talking to the doctor about your displeasure caused by long wait times, you can do a couple of things: bring a book with you to pass the time; try to schedule your appointment as early as possible to avoid the back-up that inevitably develops.

The Bottom Line

Once you have been diagnosed with a chronic disease, such as arthritis, you will be dealing with doctors and medical matters for the rest of your life. If you approach it with a spirit of cooperation, you have a much better chance of being a happy, satisfied arthritis patient.

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