Dear Doctor: An Open Letter to My Medical Team
Last updated: October 2022
If I had a dollar for every moment I wanted to scream at a doctor to please listen to me, well, I wouldn’t be rich enough to beat Elon Musk to Mars, but it might finance a few Uber trips to medical appointments. While it is obvious why screaming at a doctor would not get the result I want, it is not as obvious what WOULD work. So, here’s my latest idea: Write a letter.
Thinking about communication with my MS healthcare team
How best to get started? I wrote out a grocery list of behaviors and attitudes I desire in a healthcare provider. Then I created a tactful, friendly, funny introduction and conclusion. Put them together, and here is a working draft I hope might be worthy of your consideration.
What do I intend to do with this letter? I’m not sure yet. I do know that writing the wish list focused me on what approach to health care works best for me. If you have suggestions, please feel free to mention them in the comments section below. I know I’m not the only one who privately talks to my fairy godmother/favorite deity about such matters, so please DO share!
My wishlist for communication
Dear Dr. _____,
I need the services of a ______ (specialist/PCP) to add to my medical team. You have high patient ratings on Healthgrades, in ways that check many boxes for me. Following is a list of qualities and behaviors I desire in my medical team.
- Make eye contact.
- Listen with a poker face (as opposed to eye-rolling/judgy face).
- Wait until I’m done talking to respond.
- Validate what I say by repeating it back to me.
- Show compassion, support, and understanding.
- Praise me for doing research and asking questions.
- Praise me for accomplishments I report, such as: "That's awesome. Keep up the good work!"
- Make it clear that you are my consultant and I have the final word on treatment plans.
- Ask me if I feel comfortable removing my mask so you can check my face. Seriously. How else will you be able to observe that I have one-sided facial paralysis or a wound that looks suspicious?
- Steer clear of blaming symptoms on my being overweight, especially if you are heavier than I am.
- Take my complaints of pain in earnest and discuss all options. Hint: I already take a million pills. Can we try something else?
- Be prepared to discuss my case by looking at my EMR before you come into the exam room.
- If you are going to ask me to recall my entire history from memory, please be so kind as to pull up my EMR and read along just in case I forget something — which I usually do. Relying on my memory about ANYTHING is conducive to neither completeness nor accuracy.
My communication pledge
If you have read this far, thank you so much for hanging in! Please also know that I see this as a two-way street. In kind, I pledge to be a good patient by doing the following:
- Come to all appointments prepared with notes and my latest medications list.
- Show up on time and cancel in plenty of time whenever possible.
- Listen respectfully and attentively to your advice.
- Use my inside voice when engaging you in an argument.
- Use the F-bomb sparingly. Know that this is not easy for me.
- Show good faith by complying with your treatment plan and reporting problems as they arise.
- Be courteous and respectful towards your entire staff.
- Provide full disclosure about provocative things such as how much I drink and how many sex partners I have. I do not hold back, so if you don’t want to know the answer, please don’t ask.
If we happen to meet, please feel free to give me your own list of patient expectations. I would be more than happy to discuss them.
Have any of the following helped to reduce your pain? Select all that apply.