Len has not been experiencing any progress with his current treatment regimen. In fact, he is feeling worse. His physician decided it was time for Len to see a specialist in his condition, who might be able to help him to better manage the symptoms of his diagnosis, including the chronic pain.
Len’s physician referred him to a specialist who not only is experienced in treating Len’s diagnosis, but is considered one of the best. She assured Len that he would be in good hands with this physician. Len was so looking forward to meeting this specialist, and getting his treatment underway, that he didn’t really pay much attention when his doctor added, “He’s the best, be assured of that. But don’t expect a lot of warm fuzzies from him.”
However, when Len met this specialist, her words came back to him. Len had done some of his own research online to learn more about both his diagnosis and the physician who would be treating him. His research left him with a few questions, which he was looking forward to discussing with the doctor. He kept his list to a minimum, knowing time would be limited.
Just a Few Questions… Or Not
At the specialist’s office, Len was ushered into an examination room, where he waited about thirty minutes. Finally, the physician walked in and quickly introduced himself. Len said, “It’s great to meet you. I just wanted to ask you a few questions while I am here.”
The physician held up his hand. “I’m not answering any questions. I will do a quick exam and then you can check out with my office staff.”
“But I just wanted to ask…”
“No questions,” the doctor repeated. “Your physician must have explained why you needed to be here. If you don’t want me to treat you, you don’t have to.”
From there, he did a quick exam, and then walked out of the room with a quick “see you later.”
Len felt frustrated and disrespected. He talked to his wife about what had happened that evening. “I know he is good. I guess that’s why he feels like he doesn’t have to bother with what he obviously thinks would be stupid questions. But this is a major change in my treatment. Don’t I have a right to establish some kind of comfort level with him?’
“Apparently not,” his wife answered. “It sounds like he expects you to be sold on his approach and on him. And he doesn’t think he should have to explain anything to you.”
“I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that,” Len answered.
Has a physician ever spoken to you that way? I often hear similar stories from my clients. They may chalk it up to the doctor just being too busy. If not arrogant. Or unconcerned about their patients’ emotional well-being. Or, as some clients have expressed, avoiding having to be completely honest with their patients.
Patients with doctors who won’t answer their questions are essentially left with the same options Len was left with. Proceed or find someone else. Or, in simpler terms, deal or don’t deal.
Here are some ideas for what to do when your doctor won’t answer your questions:
Be assertive. Let your doctor know that you have a few questions that only he/she can answer. In a gentle, non-confrontational manner, say something like, “I know you are busy and you probably get tired of answering the same questions, but I have a couple of questions about the regimen you are talking about that would help me a lot in making the decision about whether to start it or not.” And then ask the first question. This approach isn’t guaranteed to work. The doctor may still refuse. But it’s worth a try.
Ask for information sources. If he/she is too busy to answer your questions, ask if you can be referred to a trustworthy resource to get your questions answered. Your doctor may have a website or some printed information that could be helpful.
Do more research on your own. If this is a treatment or a procedure you are motivated to undergo, then it is worth doing more information-gathering on your own. Google it, or check out medical information sites you trust. You might also go back to your referring physician and ask more questions. If this procedure or treatment was recommended to you, your doctor may also have more information for you.
Move forward, based on reputation. As I said earlier, deal or don’t deal. Clients have come to the decision that the physician is indeed qualified, based on what they have read or heard about him/her, and that this is a treatment that is right for them. And so they committed to moving forward with that physician, even though it meant some discomfort, if not frustration, at the interpersonal level. They reminded themselves that healthcare professionals are not necessarily “people-people,” even if their work is with people.
Find another provider. You may decide you need to work with someone with whom you can communicate. Who may not have the best bedside manner but at least makes an effort to form an adequate answer to questions you might have. Or you may need to work with someone who also exudes warmth and compassion. That’s your choice. And if so, then your next step is to continue to do your research and find another provider who comes closer to your ideal. Your referring physician may have some additional resources for you to consider. However, you may also discover that Dr. Withholding is the only game in town.
But keep in mind… Your relationship with your physician is a professional relationship. He/she is primarily there to provide excellent medical treatment. But not to be your best friend. Or your therapist. Weigh out what this physician does bring to the table and what they don’t, and decide what is most important. Follow your head and your heart. This may not be an easy decision, with some difficult trade-offs.
You and your doctor. Some physicians are better communicators than others. It’s up to you to decide whether or not a doctor’s unwillingness to answer questions is overshadowed by his/her technical brilliance. It’s your health. And your choice.