“My doctor doesn't understand me! My doctor doesn't listen to my story at all. Just as I answer his question, he interrupts me and says he wants an answer to his question!” Frustrated and emotional, I feel completely misunderstood by my doctor and I dig my heels in in the floor. Because if my doctor doesn't understand me, he can't help me either.
We often feel misunderstood by our doctor. Is this right?
As a chronic pain patient, I was completely exhausted from the pain. I was tired and irritable and had little to no resilience. In addition, I often dreaded meeting the doctor because I had to make regular movements (physical examination) that I knew would cause me more pain. Nevertheless, I had put all my hopes in this visit to the doctor, because now the doctor found out why I was in pain and would be able to treat me.
The doctor, on the other hand, sees many pain patients every day. There is a lot of pressure on him because there are often waiting lists of several months. The more patients the doctor sees, the better. The planning is usually made on the basis of 10 minutes per patient. In these 10 minutes, the doctor must find out
- who you are
- where you hurt
- what could be a possible cause
- draw up a treatment plan
The doctor is under pressure from the hospital (treating as many patients as possible), under pressure from health insurance (it should not cost more and preferably do as little research as possible, because research is expensive) and under pressure from the patient (the doctor will find something with). Then there is also the indirect pressure of the (social) media. If the doctor makes a wrong diagnosis or makes a mistake in the treatment, this is widely reported in the media.
What can you expect from your doctor as a pain patient?
- Your doctor knows what he's doing! He has all the necessary knowledge about pain and the human body to determine what he can do for you.
- That your doctor lets you read his conclusions. As a patient, you ALWAYS have the right to inspect your healthcare file. The hospital and all specialists often tend to be secretive about this and only send a referral letter to the GP and/or subsequent specialist, not to you. (read more about this in the blog: preventing errors in your healthcare file)
- That your doctor explains the treatment well so that you understand exactly what the follow-up treatment entails. During his specialization, the doctor learns how to explain something to the patient, but often the doctor does not even realize that he is still using professional jargon and that we as patients have no idea what he means by that. Therefore, always ask what the doctor means if you do not understand a word or sentence. If you still don't understand it, clearly indicate which word you don't understand and ask if he can explain it in a different way. NB. This does not apply to the technical terms in the file if the doctor lets you read it. The technical terms are necessary to explain to colleagues what has been tested and what the results are. Colleagues are familiar with these concepts and expect this in the file. A doctor does not have to explain these concepts to you and usually does not have time for this.
As a pain patient, what should you not expect from your doctor?
- That your doctor understands exactly what is going on in your mind. If you have a doctor who can do this, consider yourself lucky. Most doctors are NOT chronic pain patients themselves. Although they have a lot of knowledge about chronic pain, they don't know what it feels like to wake up every day in pain. They don't know what it feels like to be totally dominated by pain. And that's okay. After all, your doctor does not need to know this, as long as he can help you.
- That your doctor has time to listen to all your problems. The doctor expects short answers to his questions. We pain patients have been looking forward to this conversation for months. Also, we often tend to explain how it feels to us to be in pain and to live with this pain. However, this is of no importance to the doctor at all. It is important for the doctor: where you feel the pain, what the pain feels like and which movement causes you the most discomfort and in which position you experience the least discomfort.
- That the doctor knows that he is making a judgment about your life. A doctor sees many patients a day. He describes his examination, conclusions and treatment plan according to protocol and moves on to the next patient. Most pain patients have been on the waiting list and have been waiting months for this one moment. All our hopes rest on this research and these conclusions. This conversation determines our future; whether we can get better or not; whether the pain can be made more bearable or not.
- Let the doctor make the decision for you. It can seem very strange that the doctor gives us the options he deems possible and lets us choose. Preferably at that time (within 1 minute). The doctor has the knowledge and the arguments. We do not. Yet the doctor is obliged to let us choose. As patients we have the right to think about our choice and only then to choose. In practice, the doctor often says: “You don't have to undergo the treatment if you don't want to. We can also stop here.” For the pain patient this is often not an option with the result that we agree to a treatment that we do not actually understand. Fortunately, there is a waiting list for most treatments so that we have enough time to find out exactly what the treatment entails. If you don't have the energy to find out yourself, this is something you can ask your health insurance. (read more in the blog about your health insurance).