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How To Be a Great Patient: A Doctor’s Wish List

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Patient-Doctor Relationship Given the state of our broken system, I feel like we don’t have much right to ask our patients how to behave, since most of us are falling far short of how our patients would prefer we behaved. As a patient, you may feel rushed, unheard, and condescended upon. You may feel that your intuition is neglected and your questions aren’t answered. If you feel this way, let me apologize on behalf of my profession. SORRY!

Nevertheless, I was asked by CNN to contribute to an article they wrote by giving them a list of what patients do that botches their own care. I don’t practice the kind of managed care medicine most doctors are forced to practice these days. Now, I spend 1 ½ hours with my clients, helping them bolster their whole health.

But back when I was expected to see 40 patients a day, here’s what I would have loved to ask of my patients. So in case you want to make your doctor love you forever, here are a few tips for how you would make me swoon if you were my patient!

How To Make Me Swoon as a Patient

  • Tell me the truth – always. I promise I won’t judge you, as long as you don’t lie to me or withhold the information I need to treat you the best way I can. If you’re gay, tell me. If you drink a bottle of tequila every night, I need to know. If you’re having an affair and not using condoms, let me know.
  • Question me. If the treatment plan I suggest doesn’t resonate with the intuitive wisdom of your Inner Healer, please tell me, instead of ignoring what I suggest. I know many of you are programmed not to question your doctor, but we’re here to help and we can’t read your mind, so you need to communicate if you don’t agree with a plan we suggest. If you’re not going to get that mammogram, admit it to me. If you’re not going to take that antidepressant, tell me you won’t. If you’re willing to question my authority, we can marry my suggestions with your intuition and collectively agree on a plan you will actually follow.
  • Comply. If you’ve questioned me and we’ve agreed to a treatment plan, please follow through and do what you’ve agreed to do. And if you don’t, please tell me so I don’t mistakenly assume the treatment failed. I won’t jump all over you. I just need to know.
  • Accept personal responsibility. If you don’t comply, and something goes wrong, please don’t blame me. And if you sign up to incur a possible risk and you’ve been warned of this risk (pregnancy is a great example), don’t sue me if a known risk happens to you. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and it’s not my fault.
  • Partner with me. Don’t hand over all your power to me. Be an equal partner with me at the healing round table. Trust me to guide you, but be willing to do your part.
  • Bring a list of questions. I want to make sure we get your questions answered, and I understand that you often forget, then feel frustrated after I’ve left the room because I didn’t meet all your needs.
  • Bring any supplements you take in a bag with you. I may not know the name of what you’re taking, but if I can look at the ingredients, then I can determine whether your supplements might be causing issues or interactions.
  • Don’t call me at 3am for a chronic problem. While you might think we’re up waiting by the phone when we’re on call, we’re not, so protect our sleep time so we can function well the next day. If it’s an emergency, absolutely, call us! But if you’ve had a belly ache for three weeks, call during office hours, not when we’re home sleeping.
  • Understand how limited our time in the office is. Tell the receptionist the truth about why you’re making your appointment. Don’t schedule a routine physical if you think you have a yeast infection. You’ll likely need two appointments – one for your yeast infection evaluation and one for your annual exam. As much as we want to serve all your needs in one visit, when managed care forces us to see 40 patients/day, we simply must put restraints on how long we spend with each patient in order to keep our other patients from waiting.
  • Turn off your cell phone. I know it’s unfair to ask, since I might be responding to my pager in the midst of your visit. But pretty please do me a favor and power down while I’m in the room with you.
  • Show up on time. Once again, I know it’s unfair, since I might be forced to make you wait because of emergencies that interfere with my schedule. But if you’re late, others will have to wait even longer. I promise to try to be on time if you will.
  • Fill out all your paperwork beforehand. If I send you forms to fill out ahead of time, please have them filled out completely when you arrive. If you have to spend 15 minutes filling out forms, it disrupts my schedule and may force other patients to wait unnecessarily.
  • If you’re experiencing symptoms, keep a journal and a calendar before you come to see me. Write down when you experience the symptom, what makes it better, what makes it worse, how long you’ve had it, describe it in detail, explain whether you’ve had it before, and be as specific as you can so I can help you.
  • Bring your records. If you have other medical records that will help me care for you, bring a physical copy with you. Faxes go haywire, and we can wind up wasting hours trying to track down records, so be an empowered patient and keep a complete copy of your medical records so you can bring them with you.

Now it’s your turn! What’s your wish list for doctors? How could we make you swoon?


Dr. Lissa Rankin Lissa Rankin, MD is an physician, author, speaker, artist, and founder of the online communities LissaRankin.com and OwningPink.com. Discouraged by our broken health care system, Dr. Rankin set out to discover why some patients experience cure from seemingly “incurable” illnesses, while others remain sick even when they receive the best medical care. Fueled by a passion to determine what really makes people healthy and what really predisposes them to illness, she dug into the medical literature to study how doctors might better care for patients and patients might better care for themselves. Her research helped her understand and translate how thoughts and emotions originating in the mind translate into measurable physiological phenomena.  She is now leading a health care revolution to help patients heal themselves, while encouraging the health care industry to embrace and facilitate, rather than resist, the possibility of patient-initiated spontaneous remission. She will be sharing the findings of her research about self-healing in her upcoming book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof You Can Heal Yourself (Hay House 2013). Lissa lives in Marin County, California with her husband and daughter.


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Article updated on: August 30th, 2012

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