Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
When was the last time you felt frustrated with your doctor? Like those times when something that seems important to you doesn’t seem so important to your doctor? Or those times when what doesn’t seem so important to you obviously matters a whole lot to your doctor?
Sure, living with a chronic condition like diabetes takes hard work. Compliance with the treatment regimen your doctor creates for you can be a big part of that work. You’re only human. It’s no wonder something falls through the cracks from time to time. And when that happens, it can be frustrating when it feels like your doctor criticizes you without taking into account how hard it can be to stay compliant.
But the frustration goes both ways. Physicians feel frustrated when it seems that their patients are not taking their directions for maintaining their regimens seriously.
In fact, one of the most frustrating things about living with a chronic condition is compliance. For patients. For doctors.
And that can lead to conflict, with both patients and physicians feeling like they aren’t being understood.
So, what do you do with all that frustration? Here are 7 ideas.
1. Assume positive intent. Your doctor may not be behaving at his or her best, and your mind may be giving you all kinds of reasons why. What an ego! How impatient! But your doctor’s frustration may be based on a sincere concern about you and your well-being. So try to remind yourself that this isn’t a conflict between the good guy and the bad guy, but a conversation between two people who have the same goal: improving your healthcare.
2. Acknowledge feelings. The best way to deal with uncomfortable feelings is to talk about them. Let your doctor know how you’re feeling and invite your doctor to do the same. “I thought I was following directions, but apparently I wasn’t. It’s frustrating to have to live with all these rules to follow and it’s frustrating to hear that I’m not following them. I can see you’re frustrated, too.” There! You’ve said it. Doesn’t that feel better? Your doctor may need to do some venting, too.
3. Find out where the doctor thinks you’re off. Ask your doctor to explain whatever he or she thinks isn’t going according to plan in your compliance. “I need to make sure I understand what it is I need to be doing. Can we go over that together?”
4. Listen! It’s only human to feel defensive when you are being criticized, especially if you think the directions you were given previously may not have been clear enough. Yes, sometimes doctors are in a hurry and they speak in shorthand and assume you understand something when you don't. But try to listen with an open mind when your doctor explains where you went wrong and what needs to change, even if it isn’t expressed in a tone that makes you want to listen.
5. Ask to be heard in return. Let the doctor know you would like to take a moment to explain your side of the situation. “I’d like to let you know what happened on my end. My understanding was…” Or, “I wasn’t clear about…” Your doctor may be feeling defensive and, if so, you may not feel a whole lot of willingness on his or her end to hear you out, at least not at that moment. Be brief, and to the point. But don’t keep pushing if your doctor isn’t willing to listen, because you’ll just hit a wall. You may have an opportunity to revisit this topic at a later appointment.
6. Review. Make sure you and your doctor agree on your treatment regimen and what you both expect going forward. That’s one way to avoid frustration on both sides in the future.
7. But about that frustration… Treatment regimens are meant to be followed. If you are finding it difficult to follow your regimen, then it’s really important for your doctor to know. After all, another major source of frustration for both doctors and patients is lack of communication. If there are any aspects of your regimen that are going to be a problem for you, e.g. taking medications with an early-morning breakfast when you don’t generally eat during that time, then it’s really important for your doctor to know. It may be possible that an adjustment could be made. And if not, your doctor can explain to you how and why your routine may need to change to accommodate your regimen. At least you’ll know.
Don’t be surprised if you and your doctor both feel frustrated at times. But keep the lines of communication open. Talk. Listen. And clarify expectations. That’s teamwork.
Have you ever felt frustrated with your doctor? What helped you to deal with the problem? Share your experiences and ideas by adding a comment below.