The Dreaded Doctor Visit

When was the last time you visited your doctor? Think about it. Does it make you think back to the Reagan administration? Was your mother dragging you to the office? Were you seeking an acne solution? If any of this comes to mind, you’re among a very large and growing segment of the population that is teetering on the brink of mortality. Why? Simple: Routine visits to your doctor are key to living longer because they allow modern medicine to prescreen for any potential issues you may have instead of reacting to ailments after they’ve already taken hold of your health.

But booking the appointment isn’t the end of your commitment in this process. In fact, you’ll get the best care from any medical practitioner if you work equally as hard as they do. Don’t worry, you don’t need to go to medical school to partner up with your GP. Nope. All you have to do is be honest. One thing that most physicians have reported consistently for decades is that patients often do not articulate exactly what their symptoms are, or forget (or neglect) to tell all of them, or worse yet, purposely omit significant portions of their conditions for various reasons. What could possess a person to visit their doctor and lie, forget or be lazy about articulating whatever’s wrong with them?  After working with several doctors over the course of my career, I’ve distilled the reasons, the solutions and the urgency to stop this practice below.

THE POST-VISIT “OOPS”

Why do we forget? One possible reason for not telling the whole story at the doctor’s office is a language barrier. If you feel you can’t understand your doctor, or perhaps English isn’t your first language and you have difficulty talking through symptoms, then take someone along who can help bridge this gap or find a doctor who shares the same mother tongue.

The main reason why the whole story isn’t being passed along though isn’t even because you’re really forgetting. It actually happens because patients don’t do enough talking when their doctors assess them. It isn’t enough to simply answer questions. You have to engage your doctor with questions of your own. If has long been reported that many GPs have preliminarily diagnosed patients before even seeing them. That happens based on what little their nurses are able to glean in prescreening and as an effort to hasten the process overall. It makes things easier. But any doctor worth his medical degrees will tell you that your health shouldn’t be left to the easy road. But the onus falls on the patient to make the doctor consider everything he possibly can. Ask about anything that is bothering you, perplexing you or simply leaving you uncomfortable. Request tests, referrals, side effects on any prescribed medications, alternative medicines, supplementation and options for treatments.

THE “I’M NOT TELLING” MENTALITY

Why do we omit the full truth? Many serious conditions are never diagnosed because patients are too embarrassed to discuss what’s bothering them or they’re frightened about the treatment. For men, the most unreported (and thus also least reported overall) conditions are those that can be linked with sexual activity. The embarrassment of discussing how the problem occurred keeps men away from their doctors. Treatments and testing procedures, however, are the greatest catalyst for omitting the truth. Evasive procedures like colonoscopies, for many patients, can  be scarier than illness. Beyond that, it seems like we’re not telling because we want the easiest fix we can have so we can be out the door and away from any examination that could be forthcoming.

Easily the most common form of “not telling” comes simply by not going. Recent research indicates that nearly one of every three Americans have poor or no health insurance at all. They stay away because the sticker shock is usually too large–even with their health hanging in the balance. However, even those with health insurance stay away from doctors. In fact,  the growing trend for Americans (yes, even those with health coverage) is to avoid the doctor until symptoms are so forgone that treatment can often only help ease symptoms. In extreme cases, treatment isn’t even an option. The solution is simple: visits need to be considered mandatory, not optional.

Bottomline: Honesty and attendance are both key. Trying to avoid either will ensure the need to visit a doctor much quicker than you’d think.

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