WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A DOCTOR WHEN YOU HAVE A CHRONIC ILLNESS
The qualities of a good doctor to someone who lives with the cruel life sentence of a chronic illness are like oxygen to a drowning victim.
They can build you up to warrior status or plunge you into the depths of despair.
I am so pleased to have a guest post by Nicole of thisisallgoingon.com on the prerequisite values vital in a doctor to the chronically ill.
What are the qualities of a good doctor that make him a powerful agent in the fight rather than another one of the struggles that a person with a chronic illness faces?
And how much do the core values of a doctor really matter?
I would argue that they’re critical to your care especially if you share your life with a chronic condition.
Isolation is a common complaint of chronic illness sufferers.
The unpredictability of your illness and the need to be careful with how you spend your spoons often results in a seriously reduced ability to socialize.
RELATED: THE SPOON THEORY
The result is that you lose friends. Maybe it’s because they:
– feel like they can’t depend on you anymore
– can’t handle your illness
– they fear they may catch what you’ve got
Not everyone knows how to be with someone who is in pain (physical or emotional).
So the consequence is loneliness.
But, while your social group might dwindle, there is one group of people in your life that is going to grow: your healthcare providers.
They become like a bit of a lifeline – or maybe they’ll be a literal lifeline, depending on what your condition is.
However you feel about the medical profession, the truth is that if you have a chronic condition, you’re going to find yourself with a lot of appointments, and likely with a myriad of different medical professionals.
This is especially true in the beginning when you’re both struggling to find what’s wrong with you and are keen to find something, anything, that will give you some relief.
You’re going to be spending a lot of time with doctors.
So, it’s crucial that they are a good fit.
You won’t always have control over which doctors you see – especially when it comes to specialists.
But, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try to exercise some control over the situation.
7 ESSENTIAL QUALITIES OF A GOOD DOCTOR
The single most important thing that the doctor managing your chronic illness must do is to believe you; this is especially critical when your chronic illness is invisible.
A person reading this who has never had a chronic illness might not understand why this is even an issue. But, it is, and it’s crucial.
Because it isn’t just your friends, family, colleagues, and strangers who won’t believe you.
If your doctor doesn’t believe that your pain (or other symptoms) is real, then you will NOT receive the medical care that you need.
If your doctor believes that the pain is ‘all in your head’ then they won’t actively look for a solution to your pain.
If your doctor doesn’t believe you then your doctor will be managing you (and your ‘delusions’) rather than managing your illness.
My GP is the main medical care provider in my team, and he has never doubted the validity of my pain – even though we’ve never found a single physical or disease-based reason for my pain.
He believes that the root cause of my pain is psychological trauma, but he still believes that the pain is real and treats it as such.
Your doctor needs to listen to you – full-stop!
Many doctors believe that because they’re the ones who have the medical degree, they’re the ones that have all the answers.
While it’s true that my doctor is the subject matter expert when it comes to anything medical, he is not the expert on how my body feels.
You are the ONLY expert regarding the way that your body feels.
I know when the pain I feel in my ankle is the recurring pain from when I rolled my ankle running a trail race up a mountain, and when the pain is something different entirely.
I’m the only person who knows when the lack of energy that I’m feeling is a result of not getting enough sleep, and when it’s the bone-deep fatigue that comes with my condition.
And YOU are the only person who can know these things about your body – whatever the symptoms are that are unique to your condition.
So, if your doctor isn’t willing to listen to your concerns, then it’s time to ditch him and find a new doctor ASAP
OPEN – MINDED
When choosing a doctor to help you navigate your chronic illness, you want to choose a doctor who has an open mind.
Otherwise, you might find yourself running out of options for managing your symptoms early in the game.
In the realm of chronic illness, there are many illnesses that don’t fall into the regular pattern of medical treatment – they don’t have clearly definable causes.
In fact, in some cases, such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, science hasn’t managed to nail down a cause at all.
And often the ‘treatments’ required to find relief from the symptoms end up being less than conventional.
If your doctor is only comfortable with treatments from western medicine, you might miss out on some amazing treatments that, even if they don’t “cure” you, might give you substantial relief from your symptoms.
And when you’re in pain all the time or tired all the time or suffering from vertigo all the time (or a myriad of other issues), even the smallest bit of relief can make a huge difference in the quality of life and your ability to cope.
With my own illness – which is undiagnosed beyond chronic, wide-spread, myofascial pain – in addition to my doctors, I see a physiotherapist, a naturopath, and a massage therapist; all of whom were referred to by my GP.
A good sign that a doctor is open-minded is if they run their practice out of a clinic that has other health care professionals, such as chiropractors, massage therapists, physiotherapists, and naturopaths, just to name a few.
Your doctor represents the front-line of your battle with your chronic illness; therefore, you need a doctor who is willing to “fight” for you.
If your doctor is content to sit back with a wait and see attitude, you could suffer through severe symptoms unnecessarily.
You want your doctor to be proactive in ordering tests, sending you to specialists, and prescribing treatments.
It’s imperative that your doctor be willing to constantly explore new avenues in the search for a cure or at least a reduction in symptoms.
If your doctor is going to successfully help you navigate your chronic illness, then they need to be knowledgeable – and not just in general but about your specific condition.
Your doctor might be an expert at treating fibromyalgia, but if you have Lyme disease, then he might not be a good fit.
That being said, you might find yourself in a situation where you must depend on a doctor who has less than an ideal level of knowledge about your condition.
For example, you might live a considerable distance from the doctor who specializes in your illness, thus requiring that you depend almost solely on your GP (or family physician).
This isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean that you won’t receive amazing care.
You can still receive good treatment. Your GP can help manage your illness and save the cost in time, money and most importantly energy that trips to the specialist would incur.
In a situation such as this, you just need to make sure that the doctor directing your care has the other 6 essential qualities of a good doctor.
A doctor doesn’t have to come into the situation as an expert – they just need to be willing to go the extra mile to learn what they need to know to help you in the best way they can.
Patience might seem like a strange characteristic to require in a doctor; most doctor appointments are only 10-15 minutes after all.
But you must remember that your illness is likely forever. Yes, there are people who overcome their chronic condition, but many more don’t.
Your doctor is going to have to listen to you bemoan the pain, fatigue and frustration of your condition over and over again – sometimes when you’ve been unable or unwilling to try the solutions they’ve prescribed for you – and you need them to keep listening.
If your doctor gets impatient with you because you’ve been describing your symptoms for the umpteenth time, then you need to find a new doctor.
If you’re going to thrive in your life despite your chronic condition, then you need a doctor who will listen no matter how many times you cover the same ground.
Describing the distress that you’re in is part of the process – it’s part of what helps you keep moving forward, and you need a doctor who will support you in that, especially when the other people in your life start to drift away.
The last in my list of qualities of a good doctor for a patient with a chronic illness isn’t so much a quality so much as a feeling that you as the patient have.
You need to feel comfortable with the doctor who will be managing your care. You need to feel at ease in their presence. And you need to feel secure in their care.
Over the course of your treatment, you’re going to spend a good deal of time with this doctor – I sometimes see my GP more than I see some of my friends.
And I definitely see him more than my family (they don’t live near me.) Just like with a therapist, your doctor needs to be a good fit for you.
They could be an absolute expert in your particular condition, but you won’t be able to get the kind of care that you need if the two of you don’t jibe.
You should NEVER feel intimidated by your doctor. It doesn’t matter that your doctor has been to medical school, and you haven’t.
You are the expert on your own body. You should feel like you can voice your opinion. It is, after all, your health and your body.
You should also feel safe to have a bit of a breakdown (or a huge one) in your doctor’s office.
Being ill isn’t easy, and your doctor’s care should be a safe place to go through the ups and downs.
DOES NOT BEING A GOOD FIT FOR YOUR CHRONIC ILLNESS MAKE A DOCTOR A BAD ONE?
I’ve been discussing the qualities of a good doctor for a patient with a chronic condition, but I want you to keep in mind, that just because a doctor isn’t up to the challenge of your chronic illness, doesn’t mean he’s a “bad” doctor.
They just aren’t the right doctor for you – or at least not for your chronic illness management.
Depending on which qualities of a good doctor your “good” doctor is missing, they might still be appropriate for some of your other medical concerns, you know, such as your PAP every three years 😉.
One doctor doesn’t have to be everything for you.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A CHRONIC ILLNESS DOCTOR
Being diagnosed with a chronic illness is devastating news, but it doesn’t have to mean that you’ve been sentenced to misery.
Yes, your life is going to change – it must.
But, with the support of an amazing doctor who embodies the qualities of a good doctor for a patient with a chronic illness, you can not only survive your illness but thrive despite your illness.
You won’t have complete control over every doctor who assists in your care.
Sometimes there’s just one specialist available or there is a shortage of doctors, and you have to take what you can get.
But, if you have some control over your doctor destiny, keep my 7 qualities of a good doctor in mind when choosing the one who will help guide you through the challenge of a life with chronic illness.
This quotation sums up what being a doctor is all about.
I am a doctor – it’s a profession that may be considered a special mission, a devotion. It calls for involvement, respect and willingness to help all other people.
But being a good doctor to those who suffer daily from the curse of chronic illness demands extra special core values.
Take care and good luck on your doctor quest.
Do you have qualities that you think are essential for a doctor to have when treating a patient with a chronic illness?
Do you have stories about doctors who have changed your life with their amazing care?
I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below 😊
Nicole is the writer behind thisisallgoingon.com; a blog exploring her journey through life, including chronic pain, anxiety, a love of the outdoors and parenting. She lives on the West Coast of Canada with her husband and three children (including twins).
**DISCLAIMER: Remember, I’m not a professional. I’m just a person who has learned a few things during her struggle with chronic pain. These suggestions are just my ideas about what has worked for me. We’re all different, and if you have a plan with your health professionals, you should NEVER make any changes to that plan without first consulting those professionals who are responsible for your care.