It Doesn't Always Pay to Be a "Good Patient"


For many people, doctors are the ultimate authority figures, since they obviously have considerably more medical knowledge than the average person. This is particularly true for older patients, who were likely taught to be a “good patient” and not to question their doctors. However, being “good” doesn’t always work in the best interests of the patient.

Consider, for example, Sheila Schwartz, a successful lawyer, wife, mother of four and grandmother to eleven. Sheila had always been a go-getter, always on the go, but suddenly started feeling dizzy, achy and weak when she turned 60. In addition, her blood pressure was slightly elevated even though she was already on blood pressure medication. Naturally, Sheila made an appointment with her internist to pinpoint the problem. However, her internist merely told her that she was overworked and stressed out and that she just needed to slow down and her elevated blood pressure and other problems would go away on their own. Needless to say, Sheila’s condition continued to deteriorate over the next few months, and while on vacation in another country, she decided to visit a local doctor. That doctor, a nephrologist suggested that she might have a problem with her adrenal glands. Indeed, when Sheila returned home, she asked a nephrologist to run blood tests on her. The results indicated that she had an adrenal abnormality, which was wearing on her kidneys. If her internist had checked for such a problem months prior, Sheila would’ve only needed a simple surgery to fix the problem. Instead, she ended up needing a kidney transplant.

There are several lessons that we can take from Sheila’s experience, primarily that it doesn’t always pay to be a “good patient”. True, you may annoy your doctor with your persistence, but it might mean the difference between life and death. In addition, consider the following tips on how to avoid an experience similar to Sheila’s:

  1. Ask lots of questions. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification, and if you still don’t understand, ask again. The doctor or nurse might be visibly annoyed, but that shouldn’t stop you. Remember, your health depends on your ability to comprehend what the doctor is telling you.
  2. Don’t worry whether your doctor likes you. If you hesitate to do anything that might upset the doctor, such as asking lots of questions, you’re putting your health in jeopardy. While it’s a natural inclination to want to be liked, your health comes first and your popularity second.
  3. Remember that this is a business transaction. You’re paying the doctor for a service; you’re not in a popularity contest. Of course, you’re respectful of the doctor, just as you’re respectful to a waitress or your car mechanic, but you don’t owe it to your doctor to be the perfect patient
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