Thursday, 19 September 2019

Care Partner Wednesday--Do your Doctor's Manners Make You Angry?

Melanie shifted in the uncomfortable, straight-backed chair and glanced at her watch. It hadn't moved since the last time she looked, and compulsively staring at it wasn't doing a thing. Mom had mercifully fallen asleep in the chair beside her after almost an hour of meaningless chatter, pacing and protests loud enough that everyone in the doctor's waiting room heard them.

Studying the faces around her, Melanie tried to remember which ones had been there when they came in and which were new. Where were they in the queue? If Mom woke again before the receptionist called their names, Melanie knew there would be a scene. Correction. Another scene. Mom's restlessness spilled over at the half-hour mark and it had taken one of her pills and some chocolate to settle her down. If it happened again, she had no more tricks in her arsenal.

"Davidson." Melanie almost didn't believe it and sat for another second before scrambling to gather her things and her mother and follow the nurse into the office. Mom, befuddled and grumpy at being wakened, wasn't sure of her surroundings and protested at being moved. Melanie managed to herd her into the inner examining room, only to cringe at Mom's loud declaration, "I need to go to the bathroom." The nurse gave her a look and said, "Down the end of the hall. You can leave your things here."

Throughout the process of getting Mom down to the bathroom and helping her, Melanie's heart raced. What if, after all this wait, the doctor came to the room and they weren't there. Would they lose their chance?

She needn't have worried. Even with the bathroom trip, it was another 15 minutes before he showed up in the examining room.

A cardiac specialist, she'd never met this doctor before, but rather than introducing himself or even looking at her or Mom, his entire attention was on the chart. "Shortness of breath, some edema in the legs, irregular heartbeat. Has she ever had a Holter monitor?"

Melanie knew he was asking her a question and she should answer, but she didn't have a clue what he was talking about. She looked at him blankly. "I'm not sure what you mean."

His patronizing tone set her teeth on edge. "A Holter Monitor. A device which is worn for a day or two and it collects information about the heart which we analyze. Obviously not. I'll order it."

He approached Mom without talking to her and proceeded to listen to her heart and take her blood pressure, writing numbers on the chart. Miraculously, Mom didn't protest, probably because he was wearing a lab coat and she was of a generation who held the medical community in high regard. When the machine squeezed her arm she said, "It hurts." He ignored her.

"Definitely cardiac issues. I'll order the Holter. Make an appointment for a month from now so I can review the results."

Melanie opened her mouth to ask one of the many questions that lay stacked in her brain, but the opportunity had passed. She watched his back retreat from the office.

This fictional worst-case scenario illustrates many of the issues that drive us nuts when visiting the doctor, which is a frequent occurrence for anyone supporting an elder.

  • Long waits before seeing the doctor. I recognize emergencies happen and I would consider a wait under 20 minutes reasonable. But beyond that, barring an emergency, shows poor planning and lack of consideration for the patients.
  • A doctor whose manner is arrogant.
  • If the doctor focuses most or all of their conversations on the care partner without addressing their patient directly, that's unacceptable.
  • Basic manners apply. Introduce yourself, make eye contact, smile.
  • Don't speak in a patronizing tone. Ever.
  • Ask permission and explain before even the simplest procedure.
  • Don't talk as if the patient isn't there.
  • Welcome questions and build time into each appointment for them.
  • When the appointment is over, excuse yourself
Other points I would add:
Be available in a reasonable time when an appointment is needed.
Phone to schedule a follow-up appointment when results are in.
Be supportive and have information available related to the disease.
Watch your tone of voice and manner. Acknowledge how difficult this journey can be for both the care partner and the elder, and don't add to the pain.

When visiting a specialist, the bottom line is that often you have little choice who you see. You are referred, appointments may take long to schedule, and you take what you get. Many wonderful specialists are also people who see you for more than their specialty.  Others don't.

But if your elder's GP has some of the above characteristics, maybe it's time to consider changing. Caring is a long-term relationship and your medical support is an important factor, but not the only one.

If your doctor's manners make you angry, is he/she the right doctor for you?


Care Partner Wednesday--Do Your Doctor's Manners Make You Angry?


  1. Finding a compassionate doctor can be a struggle at times. My husband and I have changed doctors because of various reasons. Rushing us through appointments, not listening and not having a caring attitude are big reasons we choose another doctor. We truly know emergency situations arise and sometimes doctors are late but we also know when we are "just a number". The gut feeling of not having a caring doctor lets us know it's time to change.

  2. That's a courageous decision, Melissa. There are so many factors, such as the difficulty in finding another doctor who is accepting patients, interruption in important medical treatment, and just the hassle of trying to find someone who has the qualities you are looking for. It's tempting to stay with someone you aren't happy with. Bravo for a brave move!