The 10 Worst Things Patients Can Say to Physicians

JUNE 16, 2016
Ryan Gray, MD
Most patients are well-meaning and generally nice. But every now and then, you will get one who is a total pain to deal with. Maybe your patient lies to you, gets sarcastic, asks for special “favors,” or generally just pushes your buttons. We’ve all been there.
 
In fact, an article I read on CNN.com stated that doctors report having a “difficult” encounter with one out of every six patients. With some of the primary care docs seeing 24-30 patients a day, the number of difficult patients can add up every day and every week. It’s no wonder why burnout rates are so high!
 
When patients say certain things to doctors, it can jeopardize the patient’s health, make treatments less effective, and ruin the doctor-patient relationship. Here is a list of things that patients should avoid saying:
 
1. Anything that is not 100 percent truthful
I could probably write an entire blog just on this. When patients downplay or exaggerate symptoms, lifestyle choices, pain level, or side effects, they usually don’t realize that it can affect their quality of life—and the quality of the treatment that they receive. Lying can also be dangerous, as it could cause potential medication overdoses or interactions. Dr. House may say that all patients lie, but I think they sometimes just don’t see the harm in not telling you something.
 
2. Anything condescending, loud, hostile, or sarcastic
Although most people realize that doctors are regular people, too, some believe that doctors are never allowed to make mistakes. Patients need to realize that doctors are their partners, and getting belligerent or nasty will only harm the relationship.
 
3. Anything related to your health care when we are off the clock
Doctors are entitled to a personal life, which includes going out in public on occasion. When patients run into doctors at restaurants, on the golf course, or at a community event, they should avoid asking for medical advice. Just like patients, doctors don’t want to work when they are off the clock. There’s also this little thing called HIPAA!
 
4. Complaining about other doctors
When patients complain about other doctors, it usually throws up huge red flags that say, “THIS PATIENT IS DIFFICULT (and may try to sue me someday).” At best, it will make the doctor walk on eggshells. At worst, it will cause the doctor to try to avoid the complaining patient.
 
5. Anything that is a huge overreaction
Yes, doctors must display empathy and sometimes have to deliver bad news to patients who then experience strong emotional reactions. However, patients should check their strong emotions at the door and avoid overreacting to minor incidents, such as cuts, scrapes, or a case of pink eye.



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