Several of our posts–and our book–assert that patients benefit by interacting cordially with their physician or other health professional.
Our general advice is to strike a balance between insensitivity and meekness. For example, Section 8 of our book (the section on “Complaining to Your Doctor”) says: “If you don’t express your feelings, you might start to tune out your physician, and you might stop working as an equal partner in your own health care.”
New evidence, involving a surprising group of doctors, supports the idea that physicians are susceptible to the same pressures as the rest of us. US News and World Report and HealthDay News summarize a study of 7,900 surgeons-a group sometimes thought of as typically machine-like and impersonal. The study found that large percentages of surgeons are burnt out and depressed.
Conducted by Charles M. Balch and colleagues, the study appears in the November issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. The longer the hours worked by the surgeon, the more likely he or she is to meet the criteria for burnout and depression. Accordingly, the burnout rate is 30 percent for surgeons who work less than 60 hours per week, 44 percent for those who work 60-80 hours, and 50 percent for those who work more than 80 hours. (Yes, those are common work weeks for physicians.)
Burnout consists of such sentiments and reactions as feeling run-down and drained of physical and emotional energy, being prone to negative thinking about one’s job, being irritable, and feeling misunderstood.
A doctor who is prey to feelings like that is not going to respond well to a patient who appears confrontational, demanding, unsympathetic, or inconsiderate. Fuhgeddabahdit.
Instead, try to get your doctor to view you in a positive light and drive those negative thoughts right out of his or her mind! Here are ten tips:
- If possible and not awkward, stand up when the doctor comes into the examining room, just as you would stand to greet someone in most business or social situations. This is disarming.
- Start the conversation by saying something positive about the office surroundings, decoration, staff, location, ease of making the appointment, or at least the weather, to signal that time spent with you is likely to be pleasant.
- Address the doctor by name and title, such as “Dr. Bojangles,” to show awareness and respect.
- Properly introduce any family member or friend who’s with you (see Section 7 of our book, “Bringing a Friend with You to the Doctor”), to make the situation normal and fend off any concern that you’ve brought a ringer into the room.
- Use a lot of what we tell kids are “magic words,” such as ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘if you would,’ ‘I appreciate,’ ‘I’m sorry,’ and ‘that’s kind of you.’
- Look the doctor in the eye. Smile when appropriate. Be willing to crack a small, socially acceptable joke. (This rules out many attempts at humor as practiced by certain members of my family, but I digress.)
- Ask questions about the diagnosis or treatment recommendation, to show that you’re listening, to make the conversation interesting, and, by the way, to help you remember what is said.
- Let the doctor know if his or her explanations are either too difficult to understand (“can we have that in layperson terms, please?–I think I fell asleep in biology class”) or too simplistic (“what’s the statistical probability that the radiation would induce cancer?”).
- Clearly state what’s expected of you in terms of followup and adhering to the doctor’s recommendation–provided that you’re willing to go along with the plan.
- Avoid any reference to how much money doctors make or any other negative statement about doctors in general or any specific one. One word never to use is ‘malpractice.’