Devin’s Tips to Get Doctors to Listen
Last updated: April 2023
When you live with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis, doctors should be a source of hope. They are who you go to for help in fighting this unwelcome invader in your body. For many, they represent the dream of living a normal life again. They hold the key to not being in pain anymore, to being able to walk again, or even simply stopping the madness from getting worse.
However, all of those dreams can be quickly dashed if you feel your doctor isn’t listening to you. Doctors not listening to their patients is a common issue.
Tips for getting your doctor to listen to you about MS
I’ve come up with some tips that I feel improve the chances of your doctor paying attention to you.
Have a gameplan
When you have a doctor’s appointment coming up, it’s important to have an idea of what you want to accomplish ahead of time. Really give it some thought. What do you want to get out of the appointment? What would make it “successful”? Start with figuring out your goal and then contemplate the best way to get there and do this way before the day of the appointment. It’s good to mention what you are hoping to accomplish at the beginning of the appointment. Saying “I’m looking to stop such and such symptom” helps focus both you and the doctor on what really gets done. It helps to not waste anyone’s time.
Write it down
Not only should you write down what you hope to accomplish during the appointment, but you should also write down any symptoms you’ve had since the last time you saw the doctor. One of the best things I’ve ever done when it comes to my illness has been to keep an ongoing log of when and how I don’t feel well. That way I don’t have to think back and try to remember during or before an appointment. I try to keep other key details, like my level of stress and even the weather, along with the specifics of my symptoms. This is helpful for the doctor but it’s also helpful for me to know what to talk about. Upon further review, it’s clear that sometimes my symptoms occurred because I was stressed or overheated.
Avoid preconceived notions
In this day of the internet, it’s easy for everyone to feel they are an expert. While it’s OK and encouraged to do a little research on your own, it’s important to remember that you don’t know best. You are seeing a doctor because they have a wealth of experience that you don’t - no matter how much time you spend on the internet. They’ve dedicated their lives to this and it’s important to remember that. If you want to get the most out of their expertise, it’s better not to lead them in a particular direction.
That’s true if you want them to listen to you as well. I know in my former life, I’d have people who acted like they knew more than me in areas where I was a subject matter expert, and in my mind, I was immediately dismissive of whatever they had to say. If you don’t agree with their assessment, that’s fine, but if you want their best, then don’t go in acting like you know better.
Show respect/be nice
I’m a big believer in the phrase “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar." If you want someone to really listen to you, you should be nice and respectful. So many people these days come off as entitled or even just in awful moods. I get it, our lives can be tough and painful and we often don’t feel good, but it’s important to put that aside. Generally, if you give respect, you’ll get respect.
Avoid yes/no answers
If your doctor is asking you questions, work with them a bit and avoid simple yes and no answers. Help get their mind working by offering a little more detail. Has your vision been blurry? “Yes, it’s been blurry and the blurriness seems to start on the outside and move its way inward, usually late in the day." Be descriptive, detailed, and give context to your answers. I always feel that if you want someone to feel engaged in the conversation, you have to be engaged in it as well. The doctor may be the expert but this is a two-way street, you have an active role in this appointment too.
Note when something isn’t normal for you
If you are experiencing an issue and it isn’t normal for you, then you need to say that. That important piece of information tends to be an attention grabber. It means that what you are discussing is more than a humdrum symptom, it’s possibly a sign of new and worsening disease activity. Always be upfront when something isn’t normal for you.
Be thorough with the nurse
In many situations, you will have a nurse that evaluates you prior to the doctor coming in. That’s an important time and a chance to focus the doctor when they see you. Highlight what you are hoping to accomplish with this nurse. I know I can be a bit lackadaisical during this part of the appointment and that’s the wrong stance to take. This period of time is part of the appointment and shouldn’t be overlooked. It can also set the tone for the rest of your time there.
Having someone else with you to ask questions (and maybe more importantly to listen to the answers) is a great way to ensure a successful visit and make sure the doctor is listening to you. I’ve always felt that doctors have been a bit more thorough when I have brought someone else to help advocate for me.
Respect their time/Find other avenues
Remember, doctors often see a large number of patients and don’t have unlimited time. Keep that in mind and ask if there are other ways to ask some questions. Many places now have online portals that will allow you to send them messages. That can be a great way of getting more information from your doctor or someone on their staff. Admit they may be short on time and ask for other methods of getting your answers. In general, I find if you are respectful of people’s time and acknowledge that they are busy, you get better results, and that’s true in a doctor's office too.
When in doubt, move on
The bottom line is that not every doctor is great at what they do. If you consistently feel like you aren’t being heard by your doctor, it’s probably time to find a new one. Don’t be afraid to look for a new one or to even see a second or third opinion. You have to look out for yourself and advocate for yourself, and many times the best way to do that is to look for a new doctor.
Thanks so much for reading and feel free to share! As always, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!
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