Knowing When to Break Up with Your Doctor

This post is part of an editorial series, “Healthy Mama,” brought to you by the Fort Worth Moms Blog and Texas Health Care Privia Medical Group North Texas, which includes Dr. Elisabeth Wagner, Dr. Mickey Hooper, Dr. Bea Kutzler, Dr. Doug Decker, Dr. Jamie Erwin, Dr. Kathleen Cammack, Dr. Emily Maas, Dr. Jennifer McLeland, Dr. Lindsay Breedlove, Dr. Martha Guerra, Dr. Danielle Burkett, Dr. Robert Zwernemann, Dr. Jay Herd, Dr. Ingrid Kohlmorgen, and Dr. Martin Read. We hope these pieces provide you with helpful information, encouragement, and answers as you make decisions for your own health.

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During my daughter’s hypertension diagnosis, we kept hearing the term “white coat syndrome,” which is an actual diagnosis for presenting with high blood pressure due to anxiety from being at the doctor’s office. In our relationships with doctors, I think many of us have our own version of white coat syndrome.

When it comes to accessing medical help, we tend to lack training on being our own medical advocate and usually gain this skill the hard way. From my own experience, I’m sharing some warning signs to consider on when it might be time to break up with your doctor.

Accessibility

If your doctor’s office is so overbooked that you routinely cannot schedule an appointment for weeks or months, you routinely have excessive waiting room time, or your doctor’s office is habitually unavailable to answer questions, then you might want to consider a change. As a chronic migraine patient, I need a neurologist whose office can be accessible for severe episodes. When my doctor of several years advised me multiple times to go to the ER during his regular office hours, rather than deliver his promised accessibility for treatment, I knew it was time to break up.

Two things should be taken into account here. First, in the mess of health care, doctors have high demands from all sides. At times, they may be running late or overbooked. If this happens on occasion, have grace. But, if it’s the norm and not exception, rethink things. Second, when trying to see a specialist as a new patient for a non-emergent issue, you can expect to wait for a new patient appointment, as he or she continues to care for existing patients.

Lack of Compassion

On a daily basis, health professionals see difficult things. Being a social worker, I can appreciate the need to grow thick skin. However, a doctor whose bedside manner is uncaring is a reason to reevaluate whether this is a right fit.

When I went for my first OB/GYN appointment during my first pregnancy, the doctor came in and announced, “Well, our test is negative. So, if you’re pregnant, you’ll miscarry. But, I’m not so sure you were ever pregnant. You’re young and have time.” Then promptly left the room. The nurse came back to my tears and shock, and the doctor never made himself available again. He did, however, ask his nurse to convey that if he was wrong and I had an ectopic pregnancy, then I should stay close in case of an emergency surgery.

The miscarriage itself was painful in every which way. The doctor’s response made a difficult experience that much more painful. After a post-miscarriage check-up with his nurse, I found a new doctor. Eventually, I wrote him a letter and reminded him that his words and demeanor when delivering bad news either eases the pain or magnifies it.

Doctor torso
Photo by Martin Brosy on Unsplash

Loss of Trust

While doctors are human, sometimes the circumstances or their approach can make you lose trust in them. I’ve found that once trust is lost, it’s hard to gain back unless the physician is extremely humble and responsive to settle the issue.

During my firstborn’s first illness, he developed a startling reaction to prescribed medication. As we unraveled the symptoms with our pediatrician, he grabbed my son’s file to prove he was right. Once he saw that he had overdosed my son, his explanation was, “I was thinking of something else as I wrote the script.” I couldn’t get out of there fast enough and spoke with my pharmacist regarding the new dosage. She kindly reassured my first-time mommy doubts and advised that if I had to double check and research every bit of advice from the pediatrician, then yes, it was time to switch.

Does Not Listen

No one knows their symptoms better than the patient, and no one knows a child’s usual behavior more than the parents. If your doctor’s consistent pattern over time is dismissive — with either a lack of time or priority to listen, ask questions, and answer them — then it may be time to break up.

I’ve left a neurologist who gradually began to treat me like a case number, wanting to double my meds at every flare-up, ignoring my protests. I’ve also stuck with our pediatrician and the staff for nearly 20 years because they listen to my mother’s intuition. My children have had five sets of tubes between them, and rarely had fever or obvious symptoms from an ear infection. But, when I saw the subtle signs, I could take them to the pediatrician who affirmed before examination that no one knows my kids better than I do.

I believe that God gives us mamas an instinct about our kids and ourselves. We need to partner with medical personnel who honor that position. Don’t hesitate to build a team of doctors with whom you can build a trusting rapport.

Heather
Heather has called the Fort Worth area home since 1995, after growing up as an Army brat and preacher's kid. She's married to her college sweetheart, Chris (Sic' Em Bears!). Their kids include Collin (1999) and his wife Elizabeth (1999), Cooper (2001), and Caris (2004). Heather is the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit organization, The Adoptee Collective, which offers lifetime adoptee support and post adoption resources, as well as pre-adoption education. Heather is also a TBRI® Practitioner. Heather has authored and published multiple books and she finds joy in using her gifts, time, and energy toward her life goal to finish empty.

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