Over the last few weeks, I’ve had several patients come in who were clearly TERRIFIED to be in the doctor’s office. Huh?! Why would anybody be scared to come see me? Why would anybody be afraid of the doctor?
On further reflection, I guess it’s not so hard to understand. Thinking back to doctor’s office visits when I was a kid, it always seemed like they ended with being jabbed with something sharp. We doctors do seem to want to do mildly painful things to patients (with the best of intentions, of course).
The most common reason for patients to be afraid of the doctor, though, isn’t about the doctor (or pointy things) at all. Patients are afraid the doctor is going to find something wrong.
High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and some much scarier things have no symptoms in their early stages. That’s why we do screening tests, to find them early. Sometimes that seemingly minor, annoying symptom actually is a sign of something serious. Patients are usually very aware of this and it’s frightening.
If you come see me in the office there’s a chance I might find something wrong. Something that needs medication or further testing or other management of some sort. However, whether or not I found the high blood pressure or diabetes or whatever it is, it was THERE before I found it. If it’s there, much better to KNOW it’s there, because if we know it’s there we can address it.
There is one more big reason patients don’t like to go to the doctor. They’re afraid the doctor will tell them they shouldn’t be doing something they aren’t ready to stop doing. Smoking, drinking alcohol, eating junk food, avoiding exercise, avoiding thinking about or dealing with a stressful job or abusive spouse.
For those of you who are afraid of the doctor, I have a few words of advice. First of all, it’s important to see the doctor as an ally, a friend and advisor who has your best interests at heart. I’m outside of my personal area of expertise when I meet with my attorney or take my car to the shop. I rely on them for their best advice, but I’m not afraid of my lawyer or my auto mechanic.
If you’re scared to see the doctor, it might be time to think about getting a new doctor. Think about whether your doctor listens to you, answers your questions, and puts you at ease. Do you have confidence that if something IS wrong your doctor is the right partner to help you handle it?
One more thing to remember is that you have some responsibility as well. If something is worrying or scaring you, you have to tell your doctor about it. Remember, we don’t read minds! I can’t reassure you if I don’t know what’s bothering you.
Also, if I haven’t done a good job of answering your questions or explaining things I need you to tell me so. A good doctor will explain things again in a different way, as many times as is needed so you understand.
As far as not wanting to be told to change your behavior, that one I can’t help you with. It’s my responsibility to point out things that are destructive to your health. Whether or not you take my advice is up to you. I’ll keep reminding you until you ARE ready to address it 🙂
I don’t want anybody to be scared to come see me. You might be sick or hurt, you might be worried about something, but my goal is for everyone to feel better when they walk out of the office than they did when they walked in.
QUESTION: Does seeing your doctor scare you? Why?