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Howard J. Bennett, M.D.

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Tips for Talking to Arrogant Doctors

Posted: 11/09/2012 2:30 pm

My internist referred me to an ear, nose and throat doctor because I was having trouble with recurrent dizziness. The specialist had excellent credentials, and I was only a little anxious as I waited in the examination room to be seen. After 30 minutes, the doctor came in. He sat on a stool with a medical chart in one hand and a pen in the other. Without looking up, he said, "What are you here for?" His words were not hostile, but his tone implied that he had better things to do than to be with me.

I was momentarily taken aback, but knew instantly I was not going to let the visit continue in this direction. So I smiled and stood up to shake the doctor's hand. As I did this, I introduced myself and said, "My internist recommended you very highly. I'm pleased to meet you."

The overture did not have to work, but it did. As soon as I sat down, the doctor's body posture and mood changed appreciably. The rest of the visit went well even though I could tell he was busy and did not want to spend too much time answering questions.

How much time does it take to say hello and give a patient the sense that you are there to help?

My response to the specialist's behavior was easier for me to accomplish than the average person because I am a doctor myself. The big question, of course, is why I had to do it in the first place?

I know as well as anyone how many demands doctors face. We feel pressure to be on time, get a detailed medical history and not make mistakes. We get woken up at night. We have to fit emergencies into our schedules. Patients can be needy at times and may want more time than we have to offer.

But how much time does it take to say hello and give a patient the sense that you are there to help? According to medical research, it does not take much time at all.

David A. Gross and colleagues showed that patients felt doctors had given them adequate time if they just spent a moment telling a joke or chatting with them about a non-medical topic.

It is also well known that patients are more likely to follow a doctor's advice if they were satisfied with the visit. Recommendations to improve patient satisfaction have been published in the American Medical News.

So what can you do if the doctor you are seeing appears uncaring or brusque? I have not researched this question, but common sense would suggest the following tips might help:

  • Introduce yourself like I did in the above example.
  • Open the conversation by making a general remark about the weather, traffic, celebrities, sports or politics.
  • Comment about something you read in the examination room while you were waiting for the doctor. (Most exam rooms have patient education materials on the walls or tables.)
  • If indicated, compliment one of doctor's nurses or his appointment staff or make a comment about how nice or high-tech the office looks.

If the appointment is for your child, consider the following additional tips:

  • Encourage the doctor to comment about a toy or stuffed animal your child brought to the appointment.
  • Ask the doctor if he would like to hear one of your child's jokes or riddles. (Make sure you have prepared your child for this before hand.)
  • Mention that your child likes to know what the doctor is doing before he does it.
  • Infants and young children are usually more comfortable if they are examined on a parent's lap rather than the examination table. If the nurse puts your child on the exam table to check his temperature, etc. ask if he can sit in your lap when she is done.

Have you experienced going to an arrogant doctor? Leave me a comment below with your stories or suggestions.

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