What Doctors Really Think, or More on Doctor-Patient Communications

It’s pretty clear what most of us what in our medical care:

Reasonable wait times. Open and respectful doctor-patient communications. Doctors who listen. High-quality treatment.

What do doctors say about us, though, especially when they can remain anonymous? Reader’s Digest talked to 24 doctors and therapists about “medical secrets,” and some even used their real names.

You’re going to love some of these. Check out all 41 in the article, but here are my favorites:

The Good

One of the things that bug me is people who leave their cell phones on. I’m running on a very tight schedule, and I want to spend as much time with patients as I possibly can. Use that time to get the information and the process you need. Please don’t answer the cell.
–James Dillard, MD, pain specialist, New York City

*I want to spend as much time with patients as I possibly can.*

I can just hope my family’s doctors feel this way, too. If they don’t, they hide it well.

If a sick patient comes to me with a really sad story and asks for a discount, I take care of him or her for no charge.
–Surgeon, Dallas/Fort Worth

Notice how this doctor chose to stay anonymous instead of getting the free advertising for charitable work? Classy.

Though we don’t cry in front of you, we sometimes do cry about your situation at home.
–Pediatrician, Chicago

Clearly, I never want my kids’ health to provoke weeping by the pediatrician, but it’s comforting to know she might.

The Thought-Provoking

In many hospitals, the length of the white coat is related to the length of training. Medical students wear the shortest coats.
–Pediatrician, Baltimore

Good tip, right? I know I’ll remember it.

In many ways, doctors are held to an unrealistic standard. We are never, ever allowed to make a mistake. I don’t know anybody who can live that way.
–James Dillard, MD

We’re never going to reach the point where, after a botched surgery, a patient’s family or the patient himself says, “Oh, it’s okay. The doctor’s just human, after all.” Errors mean more in the medical field than almost anywhere else. Overhauling the system to reduce patient loads on doctors, though, does seem like it would at least minimize the chances for mistakes. But I’m no expert, and I’m not even what such a change would entail or if it’s even possible.

Chances don’t look great when you read this next quote:

Plan for a time when the bulk of your medical care will come from less committed doctors willing to work for much lower wages. Plan for a very impersonal and rushed visit during which the true nature of your problems will probably never be addressed and issues just under the surface will never be uncovered.
–Vance Harris, MD

That’s flat-out scary, considering how often asthma gets under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed in kids. Problems like asthma are already hard to find sometimes. What happens if diagnostic ability suffers?

The Really Horrifying

I was told in school to put a patient in a gown when he isn’t listening or cooperating. It casts him in a position of subservience.
–Chiropractor, Atlanta


I used to have my secretary page me after I had spent five minutes in the room with a difficult or overly chatty patient. Then I’d run out, saying, “Oh, I have an emergency.”
–Oncologist, Santa Cruz, California

An oncologist said this. Every job has its challenges, but should you really get into cancer treatment if you don’t want to see patients on an uneven keel? I’m lucky never to have needed an oncologist or even to have sat in on a visit for a family member, but I’m guessing I’d be a less than ideal patient, if by *difficult* this doctor means *completely freaked out and scared.* And overly chatty? Yeah, if I’m nervous I’ll go there, too.

I know that Reader’s Digest recommends bringing in a complete list of all your symptoms, but every time you do, it only reinforces my desire to quit this profession.
–Douglas Farrago, MD

So….what? We should bring in half the list? Pick our favorite two or three? Make you play charades to guess the rest?

At least a third of what doctors decide is fairly arbitrary.
–Heart surgeon, New York City

And that’s exactly why I’ll keep bringing in symptom lists, giving my own informed input, and advocating for my kid’s health.

8 responses to “What Doctors Really Think, or More on Doctor-Patient Communications”

  1. kristi says:

    Some of these comments are truly repulsive, and I cannot believe some of the doctors who said them actually allowed their names to be printed along with their quotes.

    This just underscores the importance of not trusting doctors. As you said, it’s imperative to be your own advocate.

  2. wendy says:

    I don’t like the cell phone thing either. But some of those comments………

  3. Andrea Pearson says:

    And, that’s exactly why you have to keep advocating for your own and your family’s health!! If the service is not what you think you deserve, move on and you will find someone who is truly a professional and willing to work with the patient to diagnose – it needs to be a team effort. Education and awareness will go a long way on both sides.

  4. Asthmagirl says:

    Unbelievable. I wouldn’t answer my cell phone if it rang. But I also don’t want to be labled “wierd” and put in a gown if someone thinks I’m being bossy.

    Which is why I keep seeing my doc. Even seeing other docs in his practice is hit and miss in terms of quality patient care. And while I think he made a mistake in not treating me different and getting sicker last December, with all the variables of my asthma, I think he’s done better than any other doc I’ve seen. Plus he really cares.

    Great article, Amy!

  5. Allie says:

    Oh, it is so hard to find a good doctor. I hate that being informed, organized and advocating for yourself annoys some doctors. Scary.

  6. Amy says:

    Yeah, I beat this topic death here sometimes, but only b/c it’s so important. If the doctor-patient relationship is one-sided, if it feels strained or awkward or not much of a relationship at all, then it’s time to move on.

    Everyone has their sticking points, but for me–while I know there will be the occasional rushed day or unsatisfactory appt., I’ll never stay with a dr. who doesn’t listen, isn’t open to my own research, and won’t be flexible with me, as long as I’m flexible, too.

  7. Blessedmomof4 says:

    Awesome article, Amy. Especially in light of what I am experiencing right now. Honestly, I feel like if I ask any questions they start looking at their watch and backing out the door b/c they are under so much pressure to see the next patient. Keep writing Amy, b/c I know I need to read it and become even better at advocating for my health. It has taken my 2O yrs. to speak up for myself and ask questions even when I dont think they are listening or care……and also I try a new Dr. end of July inpart b/c I feel empowered by reading your blog and not settling until I find a better fit…..which is hard to do in the military system, but I wont give up. 🙂

    Keep on writing! 🙂

  8. Kerri says:

    This comment totally got me: “Problems like asthma are already hard to find sometimes. What happens if diagnostic ability suffers?”

    I was diagnosed with ‘bronchitis’ twice before they told me I had asthma. I went on two rounds of antibiotics for nothing because of walk in clinic docs. Then, the walk in doc told me it ‘might’ be asthma, and sent me off with three refills on a Ventolin puffer. And to get that Ventolin took me two and a half months. My diagnosis was finally confirmed to be asthma seven and a half months later when I finally was able to find a doc taking patients, and nearly a month after that before I got on control meds.

    If it’s happened to me, people must be getting misdiagnosed left, right and centre as it is–tearing down medical care is NOT going to help!