Talking to Your Doctor: Guess What? Your Doctor is Frustrated, Too!

Taylor left his doctor’s office today feeling pretty frustrated.


He thought he had been following his regimen to the tee. Diet? Check. Staying active? Check. Medications on schedule? Check.


Well, as it turned out, Taylor wasn’t following his physician’s instructions about when to take one of his medications. He was sure the doctor had said to take it in the morning, and with food, not on an empty stomach.   But Taylor doesn’t always like to eat first thing in the morning so he was taking the medication after eating his lunch. What was the big deal? Well, according to his doctor, he wasn’t getting the full benefit of the medication if he wasn’t taking it at the beginning of the day. But Taylor was feeling fine. So what was the problem?


“Taylor,” his doctor had said. “This is an important medication and it needs to be taken as directed. We went through this and I thought we were clear with each other on this. But obviously something got lost in translation.”


“I changed the schedule a little bit to fit my routine. Is that such a bad thing?”


Taylor thought his doctor was overreacting to what seemed like a minor issue. “He didn’t like the little adjustment I made to my med schedule,” he said to his wife that evening. “Does he have any idea how hard it is to do everything I’m supposed to do? He’s lucky I get any of this right, he gives me so many orders. Let him try walking in my shoes for a week and see how he likes it.”


After his conversation with Taylor, his physician, Dr Asher, had a brief discussion with his nurse.


“I don’t know if you heard my conversation with Taylor today,” he said to her. “When I went over his medication regimen with him, I found out he was not taking one of his medications the way I told him to. And then he acted like it was no big deal. As if I was the one with the problem!”


Dr Asher continued. “I can’t seem to make him understand that I’m responsible for his health care. If he doesn’t manage his condition, then it’s on me to figure out how to get him back on track. How can I do my job if he doesn’t follow directions?”


The doctor shook his head and threw his hands up in the air. “He was clearly frustrated with me. Well guess what? I’m frustrated too.”





Managing a Chronic Condition can Lead to Frustration for Patients and Physicians


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. Like Taylor just experienced.


Sure, living with a chronic condition 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 crack 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. Along with more frustration.


So… what do you do with all that frustration? Here are a few ideas:


Assume positive intent. Your doctor may not be behaving at his/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: your health care.


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. “Doctor, 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.


Find out where the doctor thinks you’re off. Ask your doctor to explain whatever he/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?”


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 understood something when you didn’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.


Ask to be heard in return. Let the doctor know you would like to take a moment and explain your side of the situation. “Doctor, 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/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.


Review. Make sure you and your doctor are in agreement on your treatment regimen and what you both expect going forward. That’s one way to avoid frustration on both sides in the future.


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 for 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.


You and your doctor. Don’t be surprised if you both feel frustrated at times. But keep the lines of communication open. Talk. Listen. And clarify expectations. That’s teamwork.