What to Expect from your Doctor and What your Doctor Expects from You

What to expect from your doctor and what your doctor expects from you. When I say doctor, by the way, I mean any healthcare provider.  Let me introduce myself; my name is Nancy and I am a nurse practitioner.   I have treated countless patients throughout my career but the ones that send chills down my spine are those that utter these four words-- oh by the way.  Why do these 4 words cause such a reaction in me?  The answer is simple; because the “oh by the way” is something I cannot ignore because of the significance those words bring.

This is how the office visit usually transpires.  A patient makes an appointment to see me for a very minor illness.  I come in the room, get a history of their illness, examine them, discuss treatment and as I say goodbye with my hand on doorknob, the patient says those four dreaded words-- OH BY THE WAY.  I can do one of two things; have the patient schedule another appointment or close the door, sit down and talk to my patient to find out what the real problem is. I always choose the latter and I sit down with the patient knowing I will now be running 15 to 30 minutes late.  Why? Because I know that the “oh by the way” is typically more critical than what actually brought the patient to see me in the first place.

Why do patients do this? Usually they are either embarrassed by their symptom or scared that their symptom indicates a more serious problem.  I cannot tell you how many times I have saved someone’s life by taking the time to listen to my patient knowing it would be easier for me to brush it off to another day.  I remind myself that these patients were afraid to come in and it is my responsibility to alleviate their fears and make them feel comfortable so that they can discuss anything with me.

I completely understand what it is like being a patient and being afraid.   I have had numerous health issues that require me to see many ologists (rheumatologist, oncologist, cardiologist, gastroenterologist...etc., etc., etc.  In fact, I try to figure out ways to perform an ologistectomy (removal of my ologists) as I would love to rid myself of some of my doctors, this, unfortunately is not an option for me.   I have gained something very important, though, being a patient.  It has given me a great perspective on my own patient care.  My philosophy is that I treat my patients the way I want to be treated and I have very high expectations of my own healthcare providers.  Because I am both a patient and a healthcare provider, I want to share with you what I call “Great Expectations”.  This is a list of what you should expect from your healthcare provider and what we healthcare providers expect from our patients.

What To Expect From Your Doctor

  1. Honesty
  2. Thoroughness
  3. Empathy
  4. Listens attentively
  5. Phone calls returned promptly including test results
  6. Should never be upset if you request a second opinion---we are not God or perfect
  7. Explain information in terms you can understand
  8. Should never make you feel stupid, uncomfortable, unimportant, embarrassed or rushed
  9. Include you in making decisions regarding your treatment
  10. Trust
  11. Patience
  12. Confidence
  13. Treat you as if you are family
  14. Apologize if your healthcare provider runs late. Your time is important too
  15. No arrogance or feeling superior to you

What Doctors Expect from their Patients

  1. Bring a prioritized list to the appointment of what you want to discuss.  If you have a long list, please understand that all of your concerns cannot be accomplished in one visit.  This is a benefit for you since you do not want us to rush.  That being said, if your list’s main concern is less serious than a life threatening one, we will address the life threatening ones first so please do not get angry.
  2. Be honest at all times.  If we ask you a question, please do not leave anything out, even if it seems unimportant to you.  What you tell us can be symbolized as puzzle pieces and our job is to put them together and create a picture.  If you leave out a piece, it makes it very difficult to figure out what is going on.  We are not mind readers and trust me; you do not want us to assume anything that is not true.     One of my favorite television shows was House. Hugh Laurie everybody lies He always said patients lie…I believe that they just do not tell us the whole story because of their fear.
  3. Be compliant with the treatment plan that was agreed upon.  For instance, if we ask you if you are taking your medications and you say yes; we assume you are taking it as prescribed.  However, if you only take it half the time and do not tell us, we may change your treatment plan because we think the medication is not working.
  4. Know what medications you are on---please do not say the little yellow pill, etc. Keep a list in your wallet.  If you have more than one doctor, there may be an interaction with your other medications so it is very important for us to know what medications, including over the counter and alternative ones you are on.
  5. If we do run late, it is usually because one of the patients was late, there was an emergency, or a patient had an “oh by the way” problem.  Please remember, I will spend as much time as needed to treat my patients, so, if I am running late one day, know that it is because of unforeseen circumstances.  While I hated waiting at our pediatrician’s office, I knew that he would always squeeze my child in if he were ill so I waited impatiently, just not angry.
  6. If you do not understand something, please let us know.  I want you to understand everything we discuss because we are partners in care.
  7. Please let us know if there is something that we can do to make your visit a better experience.
  8. The only time you should call your healthcare provider in the middle of the night is if you are unsure if you should go to the emergency room or not; otherwise, it could wait till 6:00 am.
  9. Last but not least, please tell us your "oh by the way" in the beginning; this will alleviate anxiety for both of us.

I hope this list was helpful.  Do you have anything else to add to it?


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    Nicely stated Nancy. I would add that phone calls do not replace office visits. They are best used for brief communication, so if a lengthy discussion is needed, it is best done in person. And, if you have a lengthy list of concerns, please ask for a longer appointment, even if your 'stated' concern is a sinus infection or a rash.

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    Nancy Chodash

    I am a nurse practitioner who not only treats patients, but has had chronic illnesses including cancer so I understand how frustrating medicine can be. But through all this, I have never lost my sense of humor and my ability to make people laugh. I love to cook, and since becoming gluten-free a year ago, I have recipes for everyone's tastes whether it be healthy, decadent, vegetarian, or gluten-free. My philosophy is all about health, food, laughter and life!

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