From the patient's point of view
by DZ Stone, Special to CreakyJoints
When breaking up with your rheumatologist is hard to do
Much has been written about how one knows when it’s time to change doctors. If, for example, after you’ve tried your best to be a ‘good patient’ by reading up on your illness, taking note of your symptoms, and writing down specific questions to ask your physician, and you still feel like you’re being treated like a pest, a big dummy—even some kind of delusional hypochondriac imagining that you are in pain—well, it may be time to switch.
This marriage—errr doctor/patient relationship—is over.
But how? Yes, exactly how do you leave your doctor? Or more specifically, your rheumatologist, an especially difficult break up.
Because chronic diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis require long-term care, the rheumatologist/patient relationship is an especially intense one that demands mutual respect and trust. It’s no wonder it has often been likened to a marriage, and why it’s so much harder when this particular doctor/patient relationship goes south.
So how does one break up with their rheumatologist? If you’re at the point where you want to leave, health psychologist Dr. Laurie Ferguson recommends that you first consider that your rheumatologist doesn’t need to be your be-all and end-all.
“If you feel that you don’t have synergy—say the doctor gives numbers and you like a doctor who talks—you don’t have to change if you have a primary care doctor you can relate to. Everyone needs one ‘go-to’ doctor and if that’s not your rheum then it needs to be your primary or another doctor. If your rheum is your go-to person, you’re lucky, but your rheum doesn’t have to be,” said Ferguson.
Okay, say you give your rheumatologist another chance while keeping in mind this will never be your go-to doc—but you still want out. There’s just no way you can stay in this doctor/patient relationship.
On the next visit, do you march into the examining room and say it’s over because you’re tired of sitting in the waiting room for hours? Explain it’s because the doctor never ever returns your call. Or, maybe confront your doctor and say you are tired of never being listened to and having your physical symptoms summarily dismissed as psychosomatic? And not only that—you’ve done your research and the doctor won’t even consider trying different medications. What’s with that?
Certainly, you can break up with a rheumatologist in such a way—but only if you want to, only if it makes you feel better to do so.
According to Dr. Ferguson, “You should ask yourself what would be the outcome of confrontation. What are you looking for? What’s your agenda in confronting your doctor? Do you want them to know how bad they are? Do you want to have the last word? Sometimes—especially women—feel they have to be polite, that they have to take care of other’s feelings. They worry whether the doctor is going to like me. This can make confrontation difficult.”
If you get high anxiety at the thought of telling your rheumatologist you are leaving and changing physicians, here’s what you need to know: You don’t have to tell your doctor exactly why you are leaving. In fact, you don’t have to say anything about it at all.
That’s right. You don’t even have to tell your doctor that you are leaving. After you find a new doctor, all you have to do is request that your old doctor’s office forward your medical records to the new doctor. That’s it. What’s more, you don’t even have to tell the new doctor why you’ve changed.
If you have been with the same rheumatologist for many years, it can be emotionally wrenching to switch. There’s no reason to complicate an already difficult situation by thinking you have to explain to your old doctor why you are leaving—or tell the new doctor why you left. Doctors get it, totally.
So it’s perfectly okay to leave and not say why. The rheumatologist/patient relationship may be like a marriage, but leaving your doctor is no divorce court.
And if you feel that you must say something, certainly there are places online where you could post a review of your doctor. However, Dr. Ferguson suggests, “If you want the last word, write your doctor a note. I think that's probably a better route.”