Paul Buchanan: How not to annoy your doctor

peb-photo-jpgWhat do we, patients, really want when we phone up to book that appointment? What do we really need? Why do we feel like the only answer is to take a half day off work to go and see the doctor?

Is it that we are genuinely ill, have developed symptoms of something inexplicable, feel so utterly sick that we have to call the doctor? Or is it that we need to feel like someone out there is actually listening to us, and so a trip to the doctor, especially at this time of year, is explicable and almost expected?

Is it a chance to sit in front of someone from whom we will gain some level of comfort, even if it’s only for 15 minutes, who isn’t a part of the problem. A doctor who will provide us with a “get out of jail” pass and enable us to take the rest of the day off to “take care of ourselves?”

Don’t we all have a responsibility to learn at least the basics of the most common conditions that will affect us all at some point of the year?  How to spot that a cold is just a cold and that a headache is normally just a headache. Perhaps we need to look at our lifestyle choices before we go to see the doctor?

Can’t we all be more appreciative of our doctors and the time and effort involved in delivering a service that is trying to keep us all fit and healthy? We need to be prepared to take some accountability for our own actions and perhaps recognise that sometimes we don’t actually need the doctor, just a sympathetic ear to listen to our concerns. Sometimes we need to give ourselves permission to take a break from our daily routine and recoup, recharge, rest, and recover? More to the point, when we do need to see a doctor, we’ll be mindful of ensuring that they are able to help us because we’ll have looked in the mirror and asked ourselves “what is actually wrong?” We’ll have sat down and written out the symptoms, have drawn up a list of all our current medications, and have prepared ourselves to provide answers to all of the questions we know we’re going to be asked—after all, we’ve all been there before!

Do we treat the doctors with the respect we expect? Do we come to consultations prepared? If we’re unsure, uncomfortable, or need help—do we ever take someone with us who can help keep us focused on why we are there?  More importantly, perhaps, do we really listen to the doctor?  Do we take notes and make sure we can remember the advice, the treatment options, and the guidance offered by our doctors.  Do we actually do what they have suggested?

What do doctors want? How can they help us to help them? They can remind us to be clear, to ask questions, to say if we don’t understand, and to have thought about how to use the time we have with them. They can remind us to be honest and to say if what we really need is “time off” because we’re concerned that we can’t cope.  You, our doctor, can remind us that we may well have post Christmas Blues, and that feeling deflated, uncertain, unsure, and in need of some calm and reassuring guidance is perfectly OK?  Tell us.

We don’t want to annoy you, sometimes we just need your help to open up and recognise what the underlying problem really is.

Paul Buchanan is a patient with Type 1 diabetes. He runs Team Blood Glucose. He is part of The BMJ‘s patient panel.

Competing interests: None declared.