The one question to ask your doctor

How to tell if you doctor is good with just one question

Doctors are constantly responding to feedback from patients.

They watch how you answer questions, for example. Someone who looks vaguely surprised when asked about alcohol intake and answers, “Oh, every once in a while” is very different from someone who turns beet red, shifts in his seat, and says the exact same thing.

Or a patient who says “OK” to a recommendation while taking notes, versus a patient who is staring out the window with her hands clenched tightly on her lap.

These are parts of human interaction that make being a doctor fun and challenging, and good doctors will notice these details and shift their approaches accordingly.

The patient who blushes with the question about alcohol will get some gentle questions about the number of drinks he has per day, and the woman who is clenching her hands will get some bigger picture questions about how she’s doing overall.

Doctors are used to changing how they handle situations based on the patient in front of them. Doctors who can take direct suggestions, though, are less common.

“What do you think of that?”

Whether “that” is a treatment you read about online, something your friend told you, or even negative feedback for that specific doctor, your physician should be able to respond in a compassionate and reasonable way.

Words you’re looking for include:

  • I understand why you would ask

  • It sounds like that was X for you

  • Can you tell me more about....

  • This is what I know about X…

  • Do you think we are on the same page…

  • Some kind of statement to validate what you’re thinking, or at least some questions about why you’re thinking that.

This does not necessarily mean that the doctor will agree with you.

If it’s a treatment related issue, that’s presumably why you are seeing that doctor - to help you decide what to do next.

Even as a physician, I have suggested multiple things to my doctors that I was later glad they didn’t agree with me about.

They may even say “I never do that,” and give you some reasons why not. But they should be able to come to an understanding with you about your concerns, and what some reasonable next steps would be.

If it’s an issue related to their office staff, practice, or care, they still may not agree with you, but should validate your experience and figure out a way to make it better next time.

Red flags for doctors to avoid include:

  • Don’t blame me if X

  • That’s ridiculous

  • I’m not going to deal with this

In general, doctors who dismiss your concerns should be dismissed. You deserve someone who will listen to you and respond to feedback in a thoughtful, professional manner.

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