A Weird Trick to Get Doctors to Listen to You — Pain News Network

A Weird Trick to Get Doctors to Listen to You — Pain News Network

By Crystal Lindell, PNN Columnist

There is plenty of advice on how to get a doctor to take you seriously. Most of it is wrong.

Lucky for you, I’ve been suffering for a decade! Through trial and error, I have learned a few things and I am happy to share them with you.

First though, a little background on why you might need this information. It’s basically a rite of passage for chronically ill patients to lose faith in doctors. We walked in expecting Dr. Gregory House, the bright and moody main character of the TV show. House — to solve the puzzle of our disease. Instead, we’re more likely to be greeted by a doctor with all of House’s hostility, but none of his determination.

Doctors are notorious for downplaying symptoms, ignoring concerns, and blaming it all on the patient’s weight, smoking, stress, or drug-seeking behavior.

They also tend to have a violent dislike for patients who suggest their own diagnoses. Their delicate medical ego overrides any rational reaction, and in most cases, chronically ill patients walk out of their appointments with no answers.

I used to think this only happened to women, but after going on several dates with men in my family, I’ve realized it’s a pervasive thing. My theory is that many of them became doctors so they could be seen as the smartest people in the room. And they hate it when patients treat them as equals, instead of the superior beings they think they are.

The problem is that many patients tend to be very good at figuring out what’s wrong with their own bodies. They are highly motivated to find answers and have more access to medical research tools than ever before in human history. Doctors love to make fun of Dr. Google, but that’s like making fun of libraries. Finding information online does not automatically make it less valuable than finding it in a book.

Which brings us to the problem: once we as patients figure out what might be wrong, how do we bring it to our doctor without offending him?

In short, it’s about framing. You have to suggest that someone else is making you ask them about whatever it is you want to mention. Let me share an example:

Do not tell: “I think I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.”

Instead, say: “My best friend wanted me to ask you something. I don’t even think it’s a thing, but she thinks she might have something called EDS. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, I think. I don’t know. It’s probably weird. But have you heard of him? Do you think she could have it?

Here is another example:

Do not tell: “I think I have ADHD.”

Instead, say: “So my wife said she had to ask you something. I don’t know if she’s right, but if she doesn’t tell you, she will be very angry with me. She thinks she might have something called attention deficit disorder. And she said that you might be able to help.

Yes, I know, it’s annoying and demeaning. And you’re right, patients shouldn’t have to deal with medical conversations like this. They shouldn’t need to feign ignorance to get a doctor to help them.

But this column is not about toppling medical power structures. It’s about getting immediate results in what are often life-threatening situations. And I can assure you that this method works. I speak from experience. This is literally how I got my EDS diagnosis after dealing with chronic pain for years. I have shared this tip with others who have also used it successfully.

It also works on all types of medical. This is what you tell them:

To emergency physicians: “My husband had me come here to get this chest pain checked out.”

To Primary Care Physicians: “My roommate said I had to ask him about checking my thyroid levels.”

To pain specialists: “My brother thinks I have rheumatoid arthritis and he wanted me to ask you about it.”

To the psychiatrists: “My aunt said I should ask you about anxiety meds.”

Not only will this help them take their symptoms seriously, but it will also help convince them to order specific tests, offer specific medications, and consider a specific diagnosis.

This approach shifts the focus to a third party, which helps doctors lower their defenses. If you think patients’ medical suggestions are silly, you’re only pretending to agree with them. It effectively puts you on the same side as the doctor⁠: you two against your loved one. Which is fine, because your loved one isn’t dependent on you for medical care, so they can handle the heat. And when the doctor feels that you are on his side, he is more likely to want to help you.

This approach also means that the doctor knows that they are likely to tell a third party what happened during the appointment, which means that they will have a higher level of responsibility. That alone will often have a huge impact on how you are treated.

Yes, it is wrong that patients have to use passive aggressive techniques just to get an MRI. But, as my mom always says, it’s better to be wrong than to be absolutely right. Sure, you could insist on being more direct with your doctor, but if that doesn’t work, and the doctor dismisses your symptoms when he should be treating them, the choice could literally kill you. You would be right, but you would be absolutely right.

Hopefully, one day, patients won’t have to deal with their doctors’ fragile egos to get the care they need. However, until that day, this will help. So go and be good. And if you can’t be well, at least prepare well.

Crystal Lindell is a freelance writer living in Illinois. After five years of unexplained rib pain, Crystal was finally diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos Hypermobility Syndrome. She and her fiancé have 3 cats: Princess Dee, Basil, and Goose. She likes the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Taylor Swift Easter eggs, and playing the daily word game Semantle.

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