The Dreaded Doctors Office
So, you find yourself worried about your body, but you are too scared to talk to your doctor about hidradenitis suppurativa. You think they won’t listen to you, or that you are being dramatic. Sound about right? If you are struggling with this right now, don’t worry most people have at some point. Seeing a doctor means talking to another person about intimate parts of yourself. Who wouldn’t feel intimidated? In medical settings, many people feel helpless, judged and sometimes not listened to. Unfortunately, this leads to people avoiding their doctor and not getting the help they need.
It doesn’t have to be this way though. After all your doctor didn’t become a doctor to frighten you. They want to help because it is their job. They just have their own way of going about it. The crux of the problem is the power imbalance. This person is an expert and controls the help you need. This leaves you feeling vulnerable and like you must do as this person says without question.
We all need to work together
Rather than thinking of the doctor as an authority, think of them as a service provider. Think of yourself, not as a patient but as a consumer. This may feel strange but it will help you feel like you have control over the situation. Recognising you are an equal participant is key to communicating your needs. You and your doctor need to work together for you to be healthy. Now that we have talked about how you might think about it, let’s talk about how to do it.
Talking about symptoms
When you go to your appointment bring a list of symptoms. Include when they started and any details that might be important. For example, if you are in pain, what kind of pain? If you have any questions for your doctor, have a list of those too.
Writing down your symptoms beforehand will help you keep the information in order. You will be able to speak confidently if you are not worried about forgetting something.If you have any resources like leaflets or articles, bring them along. Imagery and reliable information will help to make you get your message across.
Being prepared allows the doctor to spend less time explaining things unnecessarily. This means you can get the most out of the time. Avoid searching for your symptoms online. Don’t go looking for the worst-case scenario.
The average doctor’s appointment is about 15-20 minutes long. Doctors are busy and under a lot of pressure to see as many patients in a day as possible. Sometimes communication skills get cut short.
A 2018 study found that doctors listen to a patient for an average of 11 seconds before interrupting. That’s not a lot of time for you to describe your health concern.
Remember what I said at the start about your doctor being a service provider? It doesn’t matter how many people are in the waiting room, this is your appointment. While you are in the room, you are the most important person. The goal is to resolve your problem.
If you feel you are being rushed or not listened to say so. Ask your doctor to slow down. If you don’t understand something, ask them to explain it another way. Make sure that when you leave the room you have accomplished something in going, even if it’s just testing.
If this seems too much, why not ask someone you trust to role-play the appointment with you beforehand. Role-play allows you to practice being assertive and expect questions.
Talk to a Doctor you Trust
When I visit my doctor surgery, I see a different doctor every time. If your concern is something that embarrasses you, request a specific doctor. That might mean you have to wait a little longer for an appointment, but you will be less anxious. Talking to someone who knows you may make getting your point across easier.
People tend to listen more to people they know more so than those they don’t. Relationships go both ways. Your doctor will know your history and you will have experience of how they have behaved before.
Talking to doctors is hard but remember their job is to help, they are a service providers. Be prepared, don’t rush and talk to someone you know and trust. Make sure you get the most out of your consultation.
It might be the case that you don’t get to choose your doctor. In specialist outpatient settings this is common. However, everything else applies, they are still there to work with you, not over you. The most important thing in all this is that you get what you need. Your doctor has a responsibility to many people in their role. You are only responsible for yourself.
Stay safe, stay well.
About the Author
Shannon Sweeney is a psychology and sociology student from Ireland. She is also living with HS and has a keen interest in lifestyle, wellbeing, and Hidradenitis Suppurativa.