Not All Doctors Are Equal: A Reminder to Advocate For Yourself
Writing about my experience with MS is something I’ve been doing for some time now. With that, often at my encouragement (I believe sharing and discussing our stories with each other is important), I receive a lot of comments and private messages (and I do my best to answer every single one, even if it takes me some time). Sometimes, when I hear enough people talking about a particular issue, I feel that I need to dedicate a whole article to it. Recently, I’ve had a lot of people share an all-too-common story with me. Basically, they go to their doctor, inform them of a particular symptom, and are told that it is in no way MS. Many times, that doctor turns out to be incorrect. This makes me want to remind everyone that not all doctors are equal.
Finding the right doctor
I’ve spoken on this subject before. I even said that my #1 advice for the newly diagnosed is to find the right doctor. This all bears repeating and is applicable to anyone with MS (or any illness for that matter). I’m not trying to attack medical professionals, but my own experience and the experiences of many of my readers have proven to me that there are many doctors who are simply not up to speed on a disease like Multiple Sclerosis. Knowledge and treatment methods seem to be all over the place, even with some doctors who consider themselves MS specialists. This forces MS patients to do a lot of research on their own and to advocate for themselves if they want to get the proper diagnosis and treatment.
How do you know?
This is an especially maddening issue for the newly diagnosed and those trying to get diagnosed. It’s hard to know what to look out for when you have no idea what’s wrong with you. How do you find an MS specialist when you don’t even know what MS is? This is just one reason it takes so many people a very long time to get diagnosed with MS. Once you are diagnosed, how do you know your doctor is the best choice? Well, you have to be knowledgeable. It’s important to read up on your disease and to at least understand the basics. Compare what your doctor says to what is on a respected website, like MultipleSclerosis.net or the National MS Society (be wary of other sites at first because not everything on the internet is true, not to mention you don’t want to scare yourself). I’ve heard of many people who have had doctors dismiss their pain because they think it can’t be a symptom of MS, when even the National MS Society has a whole section dedicated to pain. That’s a pretty sure sign the doctor may have some outdated knowledge.
Go with your gut
Along with fact checking some of the things they say, go with your gut. If you feel they aren’t helping you, it’s time to explore other options. If you feel they’ve give up on you, then it’s time to give up on them (I’ve literally had a doctor say “I’m sorry, but I’ve done all I can do”; I left and went to another doctor who was actually able to help me dramatically). You should always seek a second (or more) opinion. There can be a certain amount of reverence for doctors in this country that can cause people to feel bad about seeking additional opinions. You have to put that by the wayside if you want proper care. A great doctor will encourage you to seek additional opinions, not vice versa. Remember, they’re there to serve you.
It’s going to be work
Having MS isn’t easy and neither is finding the right doctor and treatment. You’ve got to be willing to advocate for yourself, which can be difficult. Bringing a friend or family member to an appointment can be extremely helpful when it comes to questioning the doctor and getting a feel for them. Recognize that your closest doctor may not be the right one, no matter what their qualifications are. Having to travel to get the best care is all too common for MS patients. You have to be willing, as inconvenient as it may be, to travel, to wait for appointments, to get additional tests. Having MS will test your patience, there’s no doubt about it, there is a lot of waiting involved.
So even though I’ve mentioned it before, I felt I again needed say how important it is to advocate for yourself. Do your research, question your doctor, and be willing to work to get the best care you can find. There is a lot to be said about healthcare and insurance and availability. That is only one part of the problem many of us face these days. Being able to find quality, knowledgeable health care staff in this day and age is also a massive problem.
Thanks for reading!