Chronic Pain and Mental Health: How to Cope with Doctor Fatigue

Dr. Gary McClain
Written by
Dr. Gary McClain Mental Health

Vicky was telling a friend about her past week.  She was recently told by a physician that her pain is the result of a chronic condition, and had met with the healthcare professionals who would be treating her.  These professionals included her new internist, as well as two specialists she would be working with to manage various aspects of her condition, including pain management, and two other specialists who performed additional testing.  

“I am five for five,” Vicky said.  “Five docs in five days.”  

She went on to tell her friend how it felt to meet these new physicians.

“Each one of them started the appointment the same way.  They introduced themselves and then started asking me questions.  Some of these questions I answered for each of them.  Yup, that’s five times.  And we ended the session with them describing how we would work together moving forward.

“That’s a whole lot on me,” Vicky continued.  “I’ve got to remember what each of them wants me to keep track of.  What they want me to be doing to take care of my health.  What I should be reporting to them.  And when I should be making my next appointment.  Wow, even the two doctors who did the additional testing gave me instructions about what I needed to do.”

At his point, Vicky threw her hands up in the air.

“I feel like I need a personal assistant to keep up with all these doctors I’m going to be working with.  I’m worn out already.”

Doctor Fatigue is Normal. But You Can Learn to Cope!  

Have you ever felt like Vicky?  She is experiencing what you might call doctor fatigue.  You are especially likely to feel this way if you are newly-diagnosed.  It’s not uncommon for individuals living with chronic conditions to feel overwhelmed at times as they try to make sure they are remaining adherent with the expectations of multiple physicians.  Doctor fatigue can come with the territory when you’re living with a chronic condition and associated pain.  Generally, doctor fatigue lessens with experience, as you gain experience in managing your chronic condition, and get used to communicating with multiple doctors.  

But if you’ve been recently diagnosed, meeting all these doctors can feel overwhelming.  And the doctor fatigue that may result can feel especially, well, fatiguing.  

New to managing your chronic condition?  Here’s some help with doctor fatigue:

Be patient with yourself.  Of course, you want to take good care of yourself, and that includes getting to know your doctors and their expectations.  But keep in mind this is all new to you.  Anything new in life has its own learning curve.  The more doctors you have to work with, the longer the learning curve is going to be.  So don’t get impatient with yourself.  It will take time for you to develop your own approach to managing your condition, including communicating with your doctors.  You’ll find your own groove!  

Take notes.  Get a notebook that you can use to keep track of your appointments, and anything else related to your chronic condition.  Or use an electronic device.  Bring it to your appointment and use it as you talk with your doctor.  Also, briefly review your notes before you leave your appointment.  You’ll be that much more confident that you and each of your doctors are in sync.  

Keep records.  Along with your notes, keep a physical or electronic file with lab results, instructions, and anything else each doctor has provided you with.  Then you’ll have this handy the next time you have to be in touch with one of your doctors.  

Don’t be hesitant to ask questions.  If something slips your mind, or otherwise falls through the cracks as you talk with multiple physicians, give yourself permission to ask questions.  This might mean calling and talking with the doctor’s staff, or being prepared with questions for the next appointment.  

Where possible, ask your doctors to communicate with each other.  One of the biggest concerns my clients express about their healthcare is that their doctors don’t talk to each other, and that they don’t have one specific provider who steps up to the plate to coordinate their care.  Unfortunately, in today’s healthcare environment, this doesn’t happen automatically.  So here’s another area of your healthcare in which you need to be your own advocate.  Ask that test results be sent from one of your doctors to another doctor you want to be kept in the loop.  Get copies of your results and bring them with you to your doctor’s appointments.  And most of all, request that a doctor get in touch with another doctor if for any reason you think they need to be in communication.  

Get to know your doctor’s staff.  From the receptionists to the medical assistants to the nurses.  Physicians often empower their staff to serve as gatekeepers, interpreting their policies and deciding what patient issues need to, and don’t need to, be brought to their attention.  Staff members are generally more available to have a conversation with you, to listen and offer guidance and assistance where they can.  But also keep in mind that each of your physician will most likely staff up their offices in different ways, and some may have a more accessible and helpful staff than others.  However, it is to your benefit to get to know how your doctors have organized their staff and what you can and can’t expect.  

But also accept that doctor fatigue may be in your future.  Here’s the bottom line: Managing your chronic condition will most likely require having an ongoing relationship not only with one physicians but potentially multiple physicians.  Learning to effectively communicate with one doctor can be challenging, learning to effectively communicate with multiple doctors can feel exhausting.  So, at least the foreseeable future, as you get your treatment in place, doctor fatigue may be a given.  

Your, your doctor(s), and doctor fatigue.  The best way to cope with doctor fatigue when juggling chronic pain and mental health is to be an empowered healthcare consumer.  Ask questions.  Keep records.  Advocate for yourself.  Appoint yourself the CEO of your healthcare!  

Dr. Gary McClain
Written by
Dr. Gary McClain Mental Health

Dr. Gary McClain, PhD, is a psychotherapist, patient advocate, and author, specializing in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses, as well as their families and professional caregivers. He works with them to understand and cope with their emotions, to learn about their lifestyle and treatment options, to maintain compliance with medical regimens, to communicate effectively with the medical establishment, to communicate better with other family members, and to listen to their own inner voice as they make decisions about the future. He writes articles for healthcare publications and websites, facilitates discussions in social health communities, and conducts workshops on living with chronic conditions, Chronic Communication. Visit his blog for more on mental health at Connect with him on twitter @drgaryjgd 

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