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.
So, you made the decision to break up with your with your doctor. You did your homework. You found a new physician. You had a first appointment, and you’re convinced all systems are go. You have only one step to complete: Inform your current doctor that you are leaving.
Ending a relationship, whether personal or professional, is seldom easy. Breaking the news can be awkward. And you can’t predict – and be prepared for – how the person you are breaking up will react. But if you’re leaving your doctor, records have to be transferred, information may need to be exchanged, and he or she at some point is going to wonder what happened to you. So there’s no getting around communicating your intention to move on.
How to break up with your doctor
This doesn’t have to be a difficult conversation. Here’s how to do it:
Start out positive. A few words of appreciation or praise can be a way to kick off the conversation, which may help you feel more comfortable and your doctor more receptive to listening. Something like, “I really appreciate all you have done for me,” “I know you’ve been doing your best here,” or “You helped me to get my treatment started in a positive direction.”
State why. Using I phrases. Take responsibility. “I’ve decided to start with a new provider because….” And then follow up with more I statements, including “I need” and “I want.” Avoid statements that begin with “You didn’t” or “You should have.” They just lead to the other person feeling like they have to defend themselves.
Be honest. If you haven’t been happy with your treatment, you don’t have to pretend otherwise. You can state why you haven’t been happy with your care, too.
Enough is enough. You don’t have to have a lengthy discussion about your reasons for leaving, nor do you have to feel like you need to defend your decision. If you don’t want to discuss the issue any further, then say that. “I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ve made up my mind. I’d like to focus on how to move forward from here.”
Ask for what you need. Request that your complete medical records be sent to the new physician. Most likely, it’s just a matter of signing a release form. So have the new doctor’s name and address with you. While you might prefer that your current physician and your new physician have a discussion about your case, your doctor may not be willing. But make it clear with your doctor or his staff that you need all of your records forward, including your doctor’s notes, medications or treatments prescribed, as well as test results.
Don’t expect… Your doctor may or may not be able to hear what you have to say without becoming defensive, if not angry. On the other hand, he or she may not be able to express the regret or well wishes you might have hoped for, or your doctor may express sadness that you are leaving. Everybody has their own perspective, and their own limitations. Remind yourself that this is a professional relationship, not a friendship, and you have made the decision based on your healthcare needs. No apologies required. Still, do what you can to keep the tone of the conversation positive. You may need to be in touch again in the future.
Just can’t do it in person? Then don’t. Call the receptionist, the nurse or PA, or the practice manager. Let them know you’re leaving the practice and inform them of what you need from them in terms of medical records. You can also send a letter. But whether in person or by letter, just state the facts, to the effect of: “I am leaving the practice. Please forward my medical records to ___.” And “thank you.” That’s all you need to say.
You’re in charge of your healthcare. Including the professionals you choose to work with. Act with confidence, communicate with confidence!