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Are You Working With The Wrong Doctor?

Doctor-PatientPHOTO: ANDREI RAHALSKI/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

I have this combination washer-dryer that I really like. It washes and dries my clothes in a single chamber, and does a pretty excellent job at both. Recently though, it began to make this awful noise and also developed a small leak – so I called a licensed repairman. Later that day, a guy named Roman walked into my place and took a look at my machine. He went through his paper checklist and determined that the noise was stemming from the machine being filled with too much clothing at once, while the leak was entirely unrelated and would simply require a new hose.

My gut told me that the noise didn’t stem from the machine being overfilled with clothing, so I decided to do a little research online before simply hiring Roman to do any work. I thanked him for his time and told him I’d be in touch. After doing my digging, I came up with a different theory as to what was causing the noise, and how that problem led to the leak in one of the hoses. I called a different repair company that had some good Yelp reviews, and booked one of their guys to come out and take a look.

Dave walked in to my place the next day, and the combined smell of Marlboro Lights and pipe sewage told me this wasn’t his first rodeo. I didn’t mention a word to him about my theory and simply let him go to work. The first thing I noticed was that he referred to his manual far less than Roman did. I also remarked how he spent considerably more time running various tests on the machine.

After about 30 minutes, Dave explained to me what the issue was – and it aligned perfectly with my theory. The leaky hose was merely a byproduct of a break inside the machine. Replacing the hose without addressing the break wouldn’t eliminate the noise, and would eventually lead to another leak. After a quick run out to his van to grab the requisite parts, Dave returned and repaired the machine in about an hour.

Before showing Dave the door, I asked him how he knew exactly what to fix, and his response really made me think. He told me that while he’d been in the business for almost 15 years, he still approached each case on an individual basis, and knew that he had to constantly be learning in order to keep up with the latest technologies and findings. “If I just went by the book, I’d occasionally misdiagnose the problem. So I often rely on my experience and judgment, and when I don’t know the answer I try to learn so that I’m better for the next client.”

After Dave left that day, I couldn’t help but think about how the health world isn’t all that different from other professions – you have some diligent, inquisitive and detail-oriented detectives for doctors, as well as some who for the most part simply go through the motions. It can take some time to find a doctor with whom you’re comfortable, and in whom you’re willing to place your trust. But don’t grow impatient, as it can make all the difference to you in your journey toward better health.

Considering the incredible resources at your disposal online, especially through our site, you might believe that your doctor can’t tell you a whole lot more than you can already figure out on your own. But real doctors have unique experiences that Dr. Google doesn’t. The trick is to find someone who’s willing to be your partner in your health journey, not simply a person in a lab coat who isn’t open to a back and forth discussion.

How to Effectively Communicate With Your Doctor

After researching your health issues online, you’re likely to develop theories as to why you feel a certain way or why particular symptoms have suddenly manifested. Keep in mind that you’re going to a doctor in seek of an educated opinion, not for validation of your theories. If you want to get the most out of your relationship with your doctor, here are some pointers on how to communicate effectively:

1. Don’t alienate your doctor by putting down their profession. Keep in mind that on top of practical experience, this person spent a decade or more in training to know the basics that you’ll likely never know.

2. Don’t try to sound like a makeshift med school student by regurgitating in an authoritative tone what you just found out from Dr. Google. Imagine walking into an auto body shop and telling a greased-up mechanic how to do his job. At best, he’d drop your car off the lift and wish you the best of luck. If he’s in a really good mood, he might charge you for brake pads and an oil change that you don’t need.

3. Don’t speak to your doctor aggressively. A good doctor will be open to a conversation about preventive or even alternative modalities, as long as you’re asking informed questions, and have an open mind and ear.

Your Doctor is Your Teammate, But You’re The Team Captain

There are times when you need the opinion or help of a medical professional. For example, you can’t order your own lab tests – for this, you’ll need a doctor who’s willing to play ball with you. What about when you’re sick – is it a bacterial or viral infection? Is it an IBD flare-up or a pesky stomach bug? These are instances where the experience and input of a doctor are vitally important.

The information that you extract from your doctor can then lead to an educated decision on your best course of action. For example, your doctor might recommend a particular type of topical cream to treat your rash – but you don’t have to apply it. While the decisions are ultimately yours, you certainly want to have your facts (or trusted opinions) in place before making critical health decisions.

Sometimes You Have to Fire Your Doctor

Just like my gut told me that Roman wasn’t the right guy to repair my washing machine, it also told me when I’ve put my health in the hands of the wrong people. If you’re not entirely satisfied with the service you’re getting, it’s worth reconsidering the doctor that you’re working with. Some thoughts to consider:

1. If you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about politely asking for your doctor’s opinion on certain health modalities or treatments that you’re considering, it’s a red flag that this doctor might not have the open mind that you need.

2. If your doctor is the type to say “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it,” as opposed to asking “What are you doing, specifically?” I’d reassess the relationship. I personally want to work with a doctor who cares enough to at least be clued in to what I’m up to, and perhaps even use that information to advance his or her own personal scope of knowledge.

3. Patients often make the mistake of feeling like they work for their doctor, when in reality it’s the other way around. If you’ve politely explained to your doctor what you’re willing and unwilling to do, the right doctor will work within those boundaries. If you’ve got a doctor who’s going to shove ideas down your throat that you’re not open to, it’s a waste of everyone’s time. It doesn’t make this person a bad doctor per se, but if they’re unwilling to bend for you, it’s simply not the right fit.

Next Steps

If after reading this post you’ve got that feeling in the pit of your stomach that you’re working with the wrong doctor, your first step could be to have an honest and open conversation with them about what you’re seeking to get out of the relationship. You might be surprised by how receptive they are. And if not, there are very good doctors out there who would be happy to take you on as a patient – it just takes a little willingness on your part to find one.

To find a great doctor near you, I would personally recommend that you start by using The Institute of Functional Medicine’s Practitioner Search Tool. This database is filled with doctors from various walks of life who, at the very least, have shown an interest in functional medicine, and will likely be open-minded to thoughts and ideas that you have.

If you feel alone in your journey at the present time, I assure you that this doesn’t have to be the case moving forward. Aside from the support that sites and communities like ours can provide, there are great doctors out there who care about your well-being and would love nothing more than to partner with you in your journey back to great health.

You’ve got this.

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