Making Doctors Listen

September 30, 2009 at 2:11 pm , by

l_12759779What really makes me crazy (angry, to be completely truthful) is reading yet another story of a woman who almost died because her doctor refused to check up when she complained something was wrong. I saw the latest one yesterday in a story proposal— she had a melanoma that wasn’t biopsied for a year because the professional decided it was nothing. The biopsy only happened because the patient demanded one.

It brought back some other stories that made my blood boil (unprofessional, I know). The University of Arkansas found many women with heart disease were misdiagnosed with stress. “One woman’s symptoms went unrecognized until she actually had a heart attack on the exam table in her doctor’s office,” Jean McSweeney, Ph.D., the study’s lead author told us. And the amazing but infuriating true story of how Barbara Goff, M.D., had to use volunteer statisticians and money raised from patients because no traditional funder would pay for the study that eventually documented that women do have early symptoms of ovarian cancer. That’s why we gave Dr. Goff one of our Ladies’ Home Journal Health Breakthrough Awards.

It’s been my pleasure to work with many terrific doctors, but what do you do if yours won’t listen? Try the following.

Document your problem: When did it start, how often do you get it, is it related to something like what you ate or how much sleep you got the night before? Bring your notes with you.
Tell your story clearly and calmly, with details. As Marianne J Legato, M.D. wrote in LHJ: “’I have a headache,’ doesn’t say as much as: ‘I have a dull throbbing pain in my forehead that began four days ago. Tylenol relieves it only briefly and I find it difficult to sleep because of the pain. I’ve never had this kind of headache before.’”
If the first remedy doesn’t help, push for another. There could be a number of reasons for your headache or recurring stomach problem. Read up on your problem online and ask for more tests if you think you need them. is my favorite starting place.
Go for a second opinion. If you should be feeling better, but still aren’t, use the web to find a doctor near you who specializes in your problem.