With our health care system as broken as it is, it’s easy for patients – myself included – to fall into the role of victim and blame others when things don’t go our way. But are you doing what you can to optimize the kind of health care you’re getting? As both a physician and a patient, I’ve been on both sides of the exam table, and I’ve learned, from personal experience and from my patients, that the best way to get premium health care is to accept responsibility for your health, behave like a respectful but empowered patient, partner with your health care provider, and be brave enough to play devil’s advocate.

Unfortunately, the stereotype of doctor-as-God has permeated much of our culture, and when many patients get sick, they hand their bodies over to the doctor and wash their hands of the whole messy business of the human body. But let me tell you something.  Nobody knows your body better than you.

In order to ensure that you’re doing what you can to advocate for the health of your body and those you love, let’s review the 10 mistakes that can cost you your life, so you can learn the tricks for getting the best health care possible.

10 Health Care Mistakes & How To Avoid Them 

Mistake #1 Assume that your body is none of your business and hand it over to a doctor to “fix” it. Nobody knows your body better than you, and when you hand over your power, you put your health at risk. 

The Solution: Trust what you know about your body, listen to the wisdom of your Inner Pilot Light (get in touch daily here), and make sure you stay the boss of your body.

Mistake #2 Keep your doctor in the dark. Those medical forms are there for a reason. Even if you’re embarrassed, ashamed, or afraid your doctor will betray your confidence, it’s critical that your doctor knows the whole story.

The Solution: Regulations require your doctor to keep everything you say in confidence, but just to make sure, ask your doctor if everything you say will stay private. When your doctor reassures you – and assuming you can trust your doctor – tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. (If you don’t feel you can trust your doctor not to judge you, criticize you, or betray your trust, find another doctor – pronto!) 

Mistake #3 Expect your doctors to communicate with each other. In a perfect world, they would sit around a healing round table, comparing notes and brainstorming about what’s best for you, but in the real world of fax machines, lost paperwork, and overbooked schedules, don’t count on it. 

The Solution: Keep copies of all your medical records and present them anytime you see someone new. When you get a new laboratory test or radiology study, ask for a copy for your file and follow up if you don’t receive it. Make sure you bring your folder to all doctor’s appointments. It’s also helpful if you keep a detailed record of all your symptoms, including a timeline and what makes your symptoms better or worse. 

Mistake #4 Show up for your health care without doing your homework. Remember, your doctor only has so much room in his or her brain for details of unusual symptoms or rare diseases. Hopefully, your doctor will do his or her own research, but even so, when it’s your disease, you may wind up knowing more about your illness than your doctor.

The Solution: Fully research your symptom or illness and print out copies of what you’ve learned to bring to your doctor’s visit (seek out trustworthy resources like WebMD, MayoClinic, and sites where you can get Q&A answered free of charge by MDs, such as Avvo.com). You can also use your research skills by checking out your doctor on sites like Yelp, Google searching your doctor, asking your doctor for references (keep in mind patient confidentiality), and enlisting the help of the librarian at the hospital library.

Mistake #5 Fail to question your diagnosis or treatment plan and trust that whatever your doctor recommends is best for you, even if it goes against your intuition. When your doctor suggests a treatment plan, ask questions until you fully understand the risks and benefits of your options and feel qualified to make a decision.

The Solution: If the diagnosis or treatment doesn’t feel right, be respectful but speak up! And don’t be afraid to get a second opinion if you don’t feel confident that you’ve been given the right diagnosis and treatment plan. After all, it’s your body. Your life.

Mistake #6 Keep quiet when the front desk or medical assistant blocks your access to your doctor. It’s not fair, but it’s true that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

The Solution: You have the right to communicate with your doctor! Your doctor is in the service industry and is in service to YOU (it’s not the other way around). Keep in mind that front desk or medical assistant jobs are often low paying and easily replaced, and people who work in these jobs may feel powerless in other aspects of their lives, wielding their power to the detriment of patient care. When interacting with the front desk or a medical assistant, remember that these people are your allies. Be kind and respectful, not entitled, make conversation with them when you’re there in person, and realize that they are the gatekeepers to your doctor’s time, and if you want access, it’s in your best interest to be polite. That said, if you call with an urgent issue (procrastination on your end doesn’t count) and you get stonewalled, demand to speak to your doctor. Often, the doctor doesn’t even know you’ve been trying to get through. It’s your right to get your needs met.

Mistake #7 Let your doctor’s ego bulldoze you. It’s your responsibility to take charge of your 7 1/2 minutes, show up as an equal partner in collaboration, identify when your doctor’s ego (we all have them) may be interfering with your optimal health, and communicate your needs.

The Solution: If your doctor’s ego is running the show – and initiating better communication doesn’t solve the problem, be willing to seek out another doctor, even if it means paying cash to find the best possible health care. At the end of the day, there’s nothing more important than your health. You deserve the best – and the best doctors aren’t ruled by their egos.

Mistake #8 Stay quiet when your doctor discredits alternative health care methods that are actually working for you. If your doctor is dissing your acupuncturist, your homeopath, or your shaman, don’t just clam up.

The Solution: Explain that you’re receiving benefit from these providers and that you’ve chosen to have them on your team. Ask your doctor to willingly collaborate with these providers in an open, nonjudgmental way. If your doctor continues to call your other providers “quacks,” you might need to find a better fit. (Trust me, we’re out there!)

Mistake #9 Assume that a pill is always the solution. Patients are as responsible as doctors for the current expectation that every symptom can be solved with a pill. 

The Solution: Be willing to investigate the root cause of your illness. Dig deep and ask yourself “What does my body need in order to heal?” If you listen up, you might just find that the real prescription lies much deeper, and a pill would only be a Band-Aid.

Mistake #10 Never question outcomes.  If you don’t get the outcome you want, don’t instantly assume that’s as good as it gets. If you had surgery for back pain, and your back still hurts, communicate. If the birth control pill only makes you bleed more, tell your doctor. If you feel even worse after the treatment you got, don’t be afraid to question the outcome. 

The Solution: Communicate, in as much detail as possible, what is not working. Push the envelope. Get your doctor to hit the books, but be willing to do your personal work too. Sometimes the solution lies not in some external treatment, but within you. Own your part in your illness, and you just might find that you make your body ripe for miracles.

What Mistakes Do YOU Make At Your Doctor’s Office?

Share your stories. Tell us what works and what doesn’t. Let’s learn from each other.

Learning as I go,

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9 Comments

  1. Julie-Anne

    I made a LOT of mistakes that nearly cost me my life! I am a smart woman and had been an Emergency Medical Technician for 17 years. I KNEW deep down that something more was going on, but I allowed my Doctor to “steamroll” me.

    1.) I had a variety of symptoms for years. My Primary Care Doctor tested and treated each symptom separately. When I repeatedly complained of constant fatigue, he kept telling me I was depressed. My life was good and I absolutely did NOT feel depressed, but I allowed him to put me on anti-depressants and just left it alone when they helped a little with the fatigue. (The weight loss didn’t hurt either!)

    2.) I had been complaining of chronic, widespread pain for years. It was so bad that I pushed my Doctor to test me for Rheumatoid Arthritis. When the results were negative, I got an “I told you so,” and nothing further was done to investigate the source of my pain. I didn’t push.

    3.) When I DID become depressed in 2008, I did not seek out a Psychiatrist, but saw a Psychologist, and allowed my Doctor to prescribe an additional anti-depressant. On December 7, 2008 I attempted to take my own life. (This from a woman who had always been judgmental of suicide attempts thinking they were “stupid!” I couldn’t even COMPREHEND what people were thinking until my own brain chemistry changed and this suddenly made perfect sense.) I will forever believe it was the second anti-depressant that caused the attempt. I was saved by a miracle and KNEW that I was here for a reason.

    4.) In early 2010, things got so bad that I was forced to leave my job. Two months later, after sleeping for a week straight, I called my Doctor’s office and got in to see his P.A. After reviewing my history and preforming an exam, she diagnosed Fibromyalgia. Had I known ANYTHING at all about Fibromyalgia, I could have put the pieces together years earlier. This was the point where I began to take my healthcare back. I read EVERYTHING there was to read about Fibro. I watched my Doctor go through the remedial treatments. When they didn’t work, he said “Today it’s this tomorrow it will be that. You have Fibromyalgia. You’re always going to hurt. Fibromyalgia needs to be treated by a Psychiatrist!” This was the moment I realized that I knew more about my illness than he did. I never saw him again.

    5.) Doctor number 2 spoke with authority. He set me up with a Pain Doctor and even came to a visit with my Psychologist. He had me believing that I now had a “team” working together to manage my care. When he could not get the pain under control, he stopped taking my calls. This resulted in one of the most horrific nights of my life! I finally went in to the E.R. when I could tolerate the pain no more. The Doctor kept trying to get me to say I was suicidal! I kept explaining that I was NOT suicidal at this time, but was FEARFUL that IF the pain was not controlled, I COULD return to that state. I was placed on an “Emergency Detention.” One of my former colleagues from the Sheriff’s Department was called to the hospital. He placed me in handcuffs with belly chains and paraded me through the E.R. past all of my former colleagues and friends. I was placed in the back of a squad car and taken to a Mental Health Unit without ever getting any pain control! It was 4a.m. when I was searched and put in my room. When I FINALLY saw the Psychiatrist the next day, he immediately released me and was a bit dumbfounded at the fact that I was there at all. Thank goodness SOMEONE knew right from wrong!

    6.) After the above episode, I gave Doctor #2 another chance. One day when I went to the office, he told me that He, the Pain Doctor, and my Psychologist (who I had been seeing for over 2 years now), all agreed that I had been misdiagnosed. He said I had something more than “just Fibromyalgia and Depression. He said it was a deeper Psychological issue. He said that all of my Doctors were in agreement that I should be an inpatient in a Psychiatric Unit for at least 10 days for evaluation and treatment! Although I KNEW he was wrong, I decided to do it anyway! (It didn’t occur to me to have a private conversation with my Psychologist. If ANYONE were to suggest I had a psychiatric illness, it should have been her.) I wanted to be sure and did not want to just keep switching Doctors until I found one who said what I wanted to hear. This was a HORRIFIC experience for me!

    7.) It took me a full week to get a Psych Ward to admit me. None of them believed I needed inpatient treatment. I finally just said the words that I knew would get me in. After 10 full days and nights there, under the care of a Psychiatrist, a Pain Doctor, and a Physical Therapist, I was finally released with a diagnosis of……………..Fibromyalgia and Depression! Finally I moved on to Doctor #3.

    8.) I don’t know where I would be today without Doctor #3! He is a Primary Care Doctor who specializes in Chronic Pain Disorders and Psychiatric illness! He FINALLY helped get my symptoms under control so that I could find my strength and inner spirit again.

    I should have left the first two Doctors as soon as my intuition told me to. I didn’t because THEY are supposed to be the experts. When I realized I knew more about Fibromyalgia, it’s anatomy and physiology, symptoms, treatment, and current studies than they did, I should have left immediately. I should NOT have allowed them to talk down to me or to try and convince me that I knew nothing. I should have followed my inner KNOWING.

    Thanks to Doctor #3, I now live again. With Doctors 1 and 2, I was almost completely home-bound and needed a cane to walk. Not long after starting with Doctor #3, I got my life back. I was able to do things like grocery shop, and go out. I slowly became more and more active, and more and more alive!

    He and I now work together as a team! I still see a Pain Doctor. I was seeing a Physical Therapist for a while. EVERYTHING goes through my Primary Care Doctor. We have worked together to cut my medications in half! I’ve written a book, I speak publicly, I run a website and a Facebook page to inspire others to LIVE despite perceived disabilities and setbacks. Thanks to my own intuition and to Doctor #3, I can now reach my hand back and help others step from the darkness into their own light. I will be FOREVER grateful that I finally said “enough” with the first two Doctors! Just because they have an M.D. or a D.O. after their name does not mean they know more about you that YOU!

    Reply
    • MS

      Julie-Anne: do you give your website address as I would be interested in reading it?

      Reply
      • MS

        Got it: just click on Julie-Anne’s name on her post and it hyperlinks to her blog!!!!

        Reply
  2. MS

    This is an awesome list. I wish I’d had this years ago. I have learned all of these points the hard way. Surprisingly there is little good advice like this on the internet which is why this site is so valuable. But self empowerment like this can also lead to patient problems. So there are three points I’d like to make.

    1) When you’re ill it can be hard to be proactive, logical, motivated or able to formulate and complete an action plan for your own health. Depending on how well your disease is written about on the Internet, formulating a plan can require learning. For many illnesses there can be little or wrong information. It can be difficult to pick through an ‘official’ site, especially one which recommends the treatments which are failing you and one driven by patients etc, where the other side of the equation is more clearly offered. Being ill requires learning and the action of learning requires energy; physical, mental and emotional. Do you have this energy?

    2) If you are struggling with this learning curve and the effects of your illness/disease, then you need support. Many people find this is missing from close family or friends who are unwilling or unable to be the helper you need to get you back on track. This adds the additionally complex dimension of feeling alone with an illness that is slicing you every which way, everyday. A good example would be support on taking daily medication because you forget it or research on medicines or approaches to your illness that others have found helpful because you are too poorly or overwhelmed to do it yourself. Do you have help?

    3) Depending on the medical care system you operate under the treatment you need may be denied to you in your country. Find out what doctors in your country/state are legally able to give you and work out your action plans from there. They will only help you to the limit that their Licensing Board allows and this may not be the right or enough treatment for your needs. Do you know what your doctor can and can’t legally offer you? Can you get treatment abroad? Can you pay for this? If not, how can you get the care you need? You need to think these questions through and find answers.

    Reply
  3. Emily

    Thank you for this! Thank you so so much. My husband has just been diagnosed with Crohns after an emergency bowel resection to remove an abscess that formed. The first Dr we saw a few days ago told us there is nothing to be done except aggressively medicate, no lifestyle changes at all, and that the drugs have really bad side-effects.. well, gulp. Just didn’t feel right, so I made an appointment to see a gastroenterologist recommended by a friend. We’re off to that appointment on Thursday.

    Had been second guessing my own gut reaction and worrying that we should have stuck it out with the first guy as he’s the ‘expert’. This article has reminded me that its super important to feel like you have some say in how you treat an illness, and that it is crucial to feel like you can talk to your Dr.

    So, thank you!! xxx

    Reply
  4. Laney (Naware/Aradia)

    Lissa – As usual I love your insight and transparency with serving the healthcare & healing community!

    <3 always!

    Reply
  5. Lika Saliscente

    1) Not only do you know your body the best, but your health IS your business, and people forget that, because many of us view doctors as being next to God. They’re just as human as we are, and if they’re professional, they want to hear your health problems. Now, if you’re in to see your primary, you may not want to bring your home sex life with you to that doctor, unless you’re being abused.

    2) I know so many people that are too embarrassed to talk to their doctors about certain things, and they shouldn’t be. Once I had a terrible yeast infection for 6 weeks. Many of them didn’t know what they were looking for, until finally, a walk in clinic doctor had it down right, and I was “cured” in 2 days after his prescription.

    3) Part of the thing wrong with our current system, is it’s fragmented. The example of doctors not always communicating with each other is part of the fragmentation. Now if all of your health care info could show up on the same mainframe, that would be cool, since you’d only need 1 access code and voila, any doctor working on you can see what your history is.

    4) Good luck with the symptoms… I’ve had my back pain for 14 years, and still no closer to a diagnosis. 5) If the doctors don’t listen or gives you wrong info, and you know it, it’s time to go find another doctor.

    6) I’ve filed complaints on those who tried to either block or negotiate my care process. I may have made enemies that way, but, it helped make headway on medical staff hearing what I have to say about my health, and the next step.

    7) One doctor gave me a 1200 calorie diet, and it was too low for me. When that doctor left and I was assigned to another doctor, that doctor tried to put me on one of those fad diets, and I refused. And he was offended that I wouldn’t go on that diet… It sounded like a bad fad going out of fashion.

    8) I swear by chiropractics, massage therapy and acupuncture. No, they’re not for everyone, but pills for your problems aren’t for everyone either.

    9) Often, I think many of my problems come from too many pills, though it’s getting better.

    10) I have a story about questioning the doctor, and how it can cost a life when they’re taken as an end all.

    Reply
  6. chrischris

    Thanks Lisa and to everyone who has written a story here. My latest completely frustrating experience was yesterday, Aug 6th at a NH hospital ER, that took forever to give me something to calm me down and help my pain, it was only pills, and when I asked several times when it would take effect, they said wwe don’t know. So no iv pain control. Then finally through my pleading that I didn’t feel pain relief, they injected me with something. They bullied me and refused to let me talk to a psychiatrist and kicked me out of the room. What is happening here! And gave me nothing to get me through the next 48 hours, because in their “wisdom” they got me an appt with my primary dr, 48 hours later, which is tomorrow, Aug 8.
    Does anyone have any wisdom here as to why I was bullied by the er staff and all their unethical actions?
    Madder than a wet hen…..

    Reply
  7. C.

    Mistakes I’ve made with my doctors

    1. Made it seem worse than it really was just for dramatic effect.
    The result: No way– I don’t want to talk about it.
    2. Gone in without keeping track of symptoms.
    The result: she sent me home and told me to come back in 2 weeks.
    3. Cried but wasn’t able to talk about the problem.
    The result: she sent me to ER, and they sent me home to suffer.
    4. Told them very much even though they were not trustworthy and they were really abusive.
    The result: No way I’m talking about this one, either.

    Good things I’ve done with my doctors

    1. Demanded my rights
    The result: avoided some forms of abuse.
    2. Refused to talk to the abusive ones (some of the time)
    The result: avoided more abuse.

    Amazing that I’ve suffered so much with doctors yet I still like you, Lissa. Simply amazing.

    Reply

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