What to do When Your Doctor Won’t Listen to You

Person talking into a tin can on a string

In family and friend relationships, not being heard is frustrating and hurtful. In a medical setting it can be life threatening. This week a number of patients found their way to my office because they felt that they weren’t being treated with respect in our public health care system. They had concerns about their body, energy, appearance that were being written off as minor. One patient actually had Lyme disease for years but was improperly diagnosed leading to a life threatening bout of depression. I never want any of my patients to suffer without getting the care they deserve. Here’s what to do when you have a problem that’s falling on a physician’s deaf ears.

(Disclaimer: Doctor’s are more overworked and burnt out than ever and serious shifts in our health care system would have to take place to support doctors in taking more time with patients. Regardless of this, some docs/human beings just suck at active listening.)

Get a Second Opinion

This may seem obvious, but seek a second opinion. And here’s the best way to do it, if you do not have a specific referral in mind. Use a company like Best Doctors. Best Doctors gives you access to thousands of doctors, mostly specialists in the U.S. and Canada. Having trouble deciding what kind of surgery is right for you? Use this service to get your patient file reviewed by some of the world’s best physicians.

Do your own research

I know that patients are repeatedly told that Doctor Google will lead them astray. But I think this is insulting the intelligence of my patient base. Many patients are well educated and well-read and with some guidance can determine good from bad information. You just have to know where to look.

If you are seeking to communicate with a health care professional, know that they place the greatest value on research studies. Sites like Google scholar, Pubmed, Cochrane database and PLOSone are sites that allow you to search through medical and science research. There are research journals about nutrition, cardiology, skin disorders, virtually every health concern. Only the most controversial and newsworthy studies make the popular media. A tiny fraction of the research pumped out every year. To stay up to date on research affecting your condition check the research journal pertaining to your health concern monthly. It’s difficult for doctors to stay up to date with all of the research on every condition. By keeping yourself on the up and up, you will know what the best treatments are for your condition.

Keep a journal

As a naturopath, the hardest part of diagnosis is that you are only seeing a snap shot of the patients life when they come and visit you in your office. I don’t know that you sit up at nights with heartburn. Or that your joints creek and ache when you wake up first thing in the morning. Doctors are trained to look for patterns. When you create a journal about your pain, menstrual cycle, moods or any health concern that varies it really helps communicate what your day to day life is like.

Doctors are human and humans have biases.

Research has shown that doctors are less likely to listen to patients that are Black, overweight, and of lower socioeconomic status. It’s an unfortunate truth, but Canadian research has shown that wealthier clients get better care. Even in a publicly funded system. This means that if you fall into any of the above categories you should be conscious to select a doctor that respects you enough to hear you out. Understand that doctors have biases too, they are human. By going to an appointment prepared with your journal, relevant research and a clear agenda you are more likely to have the physician sit up and listen. Afterall, no one knows your body better than you do.

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