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Posted on 11. October 2012

Why Being a “Good Patient” May be Bad for Your Health

By Trudie Mitschang

I read an article last year that posed the intriguing question: "Do you suffer from good patient syndrome?" Applying the "squeaky wheel gets the grease" analogy, the author went on to describe how patients who worry about how they are perceived by healthcare providers may inadvertently compromise the quality of medical care they receive. Take a look at the following questions, and see where you land when it comes to being a physician-pleaser:


  • Do you worry about what your doctor thinks of you?
  • Do you worry about insulting your doctor?
  • Do you worry about sounding stupid in front of your doctor?
  • Do you think repeatedly about finding a new doctor, but never get around to it?
  • Are you afraid to tell your doctor you'd like a second opinion?
  • Do you stick with a doctor who's been treating you for the same problem for a long time, even though you are not getting any better?
  • Do you stop asking question when you don't get satisfying answers from your doctor?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you are a "good" patient and that can be a bad thing. Research confirms that physicians treat "nice" patients more paternalistically than their more outspoken counterparts. While some patients may feel more secure leaving important decisions to their doctor, patients with chronic illnesses often fare better when they are actively involved in their treatment plans. If we don't speak up for ourselves, who will?
Many of us have spent years either consciously or unconsciously being good patients, and breaking this bad habit can be difficult. Consider these tips to go from passive to empowered during office visits:

  • Ask as many questions as you need to. If you don't understand something, ask for clarification, and if you still don't understand, ask again. The doctor or nurse might become annoyed, but that shouldn't stop you. Your health depends on your ability to comprehend medical instructions.
  • Don't be concerned if your doctor likes you. The doctor/patient relationship is a business transaction not a social visit. Unless your doctor is also your brother-in-law, putting the doctor's feelings above your own could jeopardize your health. On a related topic, if you really don't like your doctor, consider switching to someone whose bedside manner is more suited to your needs.
  • Remember the doctor is working for you, not the other way around. You're paying the doctor for a service, and while you should certainly be respectful (just as you're respectful to a waitress or your car mechanic), you shouldn't have to continually smile and nod to receive the caliber of medical care you deserve.

Years ago, when I was pregnant with my son, I was thrilled to nab a respected OB-GYN in my area as my doctor. Every mom I met raved about Dr. P. The trouble was, I simply didn't like her. I found her manner cold and impersonal, her schedule was always overbooked, and she was condescending in her tone, constantly reminding me of the risks I faced as an "older mom." But I kept going because I thought switching doctors would be a hassle. After one particularly disheartening visit, a co-worker noticed my downcast demeanor and asked what was wrong. After listening to me vent for 10 minutes, she looked me in the eye and said, "Why don't you just switch doctors?" It was the call to action I needed. I phoned my HMO within the hour, found a wonderful new doctor who was a much better fit for me, and reduced my stress level significantly in the process. As for Dr. P., it's doubtful she even noticed my absence.

How about you? Have you spent too many years being a "good patient?" Tell us about your experiences.


Comments (3) -

Carol Tucker
7:06 PM on Thursday, October 11, 2012

Providers in this country literally get away with murder. I was diagnosed with hypogammaglobulinemia in 2007. I was constantly sick to the point where I couldn't work, have chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, GERD, IBS, asthma, allergies, chroni
c neck, back, feet, and knee pain, and am now on Permanent & Total Social Security Disability. I am on Medicare and Medicaid after spend-down, and received IvIg until June of 2011. In October 2010 I moved from FL to WA State and received IvIg ordered by a Seattle allergist/immunologist until June 2011. In March 2011 I moved from Ellensburg to Seattle, WA, and as I was happy with my allergist/immunologist, I established care with the same group (big mistake), as there were medication and lab errors, problems reaching my primary care dr, sinks broken in the bathrooms, it was one thing after another, until I had no choice but to file complaints. They immediately discharged me as a patient, but didn't stop there, they slandered/libeled me to other doctors who refused to accept me as a patient, refused to order infusion, claiming I'd been originally misdiagnosed, which isn't true, and the state dept of health rudely blew off my complaints and wouldn't investigate them, telling me to contact the King Co Medical Society who never responds--ever. I've been slandered to every immunologist and infectious disease dr in the state, none of whom will check my immune responses, and claim (I don't know if I can even trust their lab reports) my IgG is at the low range of normal. I know the literature, and I know they're full of baloney. As a person ages, their responses are not as good. I'm 57 and have a history of infections. And this has spilled over into other specialties. I've been to drs in other specialties who also treat me like garbage here. They refuse to diagnose or treat just about anything. They're taking out their hatred of Obamacare on ME. They just don't care and switching drs doesn't help; they all share information and know that no agency will hold them accountable, so they keep doing it. I hate healthcare in this country, and in my next life, I want to be born in Canada or somewhere with decent healthcare.

6:07 AM on Friday, October 12, 2012

I am constantly telling people exactly what you write about here. People are so worried about what the doctor will think of them or being a "pain" that their medical care suffers from it. Also, so many people still are of the mind that the doctor is the "professional" so they don't question anything s/he says which can be detrimental to the patient's own health!
We must all speak up, ask questions and be aware of our choices in every single matter, no matter how big or small the issue is!

10:48 AM on Friday, October 12, 2012

  I have experienced some of your same problems.  I was diagnosed with hypogammaglobulinemia in 2011.  I have been sick for years.  I was only diagnosed because I kept complaining to my doctor that  something is wrong.  I can tell you before all of this chronic illness, I had a pleasant disposition.  Now I feel so miserable between sinus, allergies, diarrhea, ear infections, and extreme fatigue I just want to scream!  My doctor avoided me like the plague, would not even schedule appointments for necessary blood work until the pharmacy called and informed them that I needed to be seen to continue my medication.  The doctor just looked at me and said you are fine.  I knew then it was time to find another doctor who worked with autoimmune disease.  I can tell you I have found a new doctor, and he ran blood tests, they were bad and they are now running more detailed tests to determine what they can find out.  I have talked to many people who have been able to try to help me calm my fears, but I continue to just get sicker.  I don't like my Internist, I had constant diarrhea, and told her.  She said, I will have you do a stool culture lab test.  I get to the receptionist desk, no test was ever submitted, but she did call me in medication.  Finally, it did help while I was on it but I am back to the same problem again.  I also need to find a new internist.  I can tell you that doctors don't have the experience with autoimmune diseases are not a good bet.  I have always tried to remain upbeat, and act and dress appropriately when I go to the doctor.  From now on, I am going to go acting as sick as I feel, maybe that will get the message across!  Doctors don't like me, I ask so many questions as I was a nurse for over 17 years and I am sure I make them feel uneasy when I am quoting doctoral information that I have read about my disease from top clinics throughout the world.  I am always looking for the best next thing so I can feel better.  I am trying to work a small business and being sick I am not able to do it!  I can tell you doctors are there to run a business, to increase their income and when you are lucky enough to find a truly good doctor it is rare!

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