The Right Responses to Rude Remarks

How to handle inappropriate comments from your doctor.
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If your physician is prone to making snarky or otherwise inappropriate or dismissive comments, you might feel like stomping out in a huff. But if you want to salvage the relationship, you should speak up. We asked doctor-patient communications expert Richard Frankel, PhD, professor of medicine and geriatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, how to respond to the most insensitive remarks our staff and readers have heard from their doctors.

"Oh, you brought your Internet printouts. Great, that's always a waste of my time."
What's probably grating on your doctor's nerves is the false information patients find on the Internet's vastly unedited database. If that's the case, ask him to recommend sites that have high-quality health information. If his objection is that he doesn't have time to explain in depth, use the response to the next question.

"I'm the one with the MD and I don't have time to teach you anatomy."
Don't stoop to the doctor's level; instead, say "Yes, you do have the MD. That's exactly why I'm here. I have the condition and I'm eager to be an informed consumer. Let's find a compromise."

"You're really a hypochondriac."
"A physician should never call someone a hypochondriac even as a joke," says Dr. Frankel. Turn the situation around by asking politely what she means: "How should I interpret that remark? Do you think my condition is less serious than it seems to me?"

"You're just stressed."
That could be true, but you need to know that whatever is ailing you is not a sign that something is physically wrong. Say: "It feels like you're giving this problem short shrift. Could you tell me more about what causes X?" Don't be combative or defensive, but if you're not satisfied, ask for a recommendation for a second opinion. Researching your problem will arm you with specifics about your condition.

"Why did you let yourself get so fat?"
Don't let the doctor off the hook, but realize there may be a medical point. Refocus your talk: "That's very insulting, even if you didn't mean it that way. Do you have medical concerns about my weight that I should know about?"

"Oh, please. This can't be hurting you that much!"
Telling your doctor he's wrong here will not only put him in his place but could also teach him something new about the procedure or his technique, says Dr. Frankel. Stand up for yourself: "I beg to differ; this is really painful!" If you have the procedure a lot and his technique doesn't improve, find someone gentler.

"If you won't have this test/get this surgery/take this pill, don't come back, as I can't help you."
And maybe you shouldn't go back. When your doctor's truly rude, your best recourse may be something like: "What you're saying is insulting my intelligence. I do have alternatives." If things don't improve, find one. Then consider reporting the doctor to a patient advocate or practice manager (you can find one in most hospitals and private practices).


Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December 2007.


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