The Chronic Patient/ Doctor Relationship: It doesn’t have to be complicated.

As a person with chronic illness/chronic pain, your relationship with your doctor is an important one. In many ways, it is the most important relationship you will have because he/she will be directly involved in your treatment and your medication which can alter (good or bad) your quality of life. Many of us however, find this relationship to be a most tenuous one because we often feel that our doctor is not actually listening to us, that instead they are taking a cookie-cutter approach to our treatment and throw their hands up in the air when we express to them that the treatment isn’t helping. Our frustration can lead to a chronic switching of doctors, with this ridiculous hope that if we “kiss enough frogs,” we may find the right one. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Understand first, that the majority of doctors did not go through all their training with the end goal to “manage” chronic illness or pain. They became doctors to heal and you cannot heal a person of chronic illness or pain. This is not to say that these doctors don’t want to treat you, only that they may be fumbling as much in their attempt to treat you as you are in your understanding of your illness. There is a lot of trial and error that goes into treating chronic illness or chronic pain, especially if your doctor is listening to you and not trying to apply some cookie-cutter treatment. It is imperative that you talk to your doctor and that discourse begins when you first meet them.

When you meet your doctor explain what type of relationship you are looking for. Are you the kind of patient that likes to understand their illness beyond the basic understanding? Do you research your illness and the varied treatments that are offered? Tell them. Do you want to be involved in your treatment decisions? Do you want to get to the root cause rather than just applying band-aids to treat the symptoms? Tell them. I don’t believe all doctor’s share the same philosophies about treating patients. You are going to have those that take on a very patriarchal outlook, where they are the ones that diagnose and treat and the patient obediently follows their instruction, and others, who want the active participation of the patient. If we talk to our doctors on that initial visit and explain to them what we want, and what we expect, it will help us weed out those who simply won’t with out ideals.

Understand that when you find a doctor who meets your criteria and whom you are able to build a relationship with that it still may not be perfect. Even if you are involved in your treatment there may come a time that you do disagree with how things are going. It’s normal. Talk to your doctor about it. Don’t let it fester so that by the time you do voice your thoughts they are spoken in anger and frustration. Remember that respect is a two-way street and that most things can be worked out and common ground found if you speak rationally about what you disagree with. I know most of us have been through hell and back when it comes to doctors. We have become inherently distrustful and if not that, there is a constant waiting for the other shoe to drop. It may be naïve, but I still believe that most doctors do want to help us, even when I hear stories of patients who are not being helped. I don’t want to make some broad, generalization about the profession because it is unfair, but I am also human and sometimes I get incredibly upset by what I see and hear first hand and through others. But nothing is ever solved through doubt. All that does is build a wall around you where no one can get in and no one can help you. It’s exhausting putting yourself out there all the time and being disappointed, but keep trying. Finding a good doctor with whom you can discuss and disagree and find alternative treatments that work for you can be life changing. Good luck!

 

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