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Being the Right Patient

Being the Right Patient

The doctor who just performed my reverse shoulder replacement is new to me. He is in the same practice as the excellent surgeon that did my other shoulder replacement and the myriad other shoulder surgeries and injections I’ve had the last few years. But my regular surgeon was going to be out on leave for a while, so I was referred to Dr. NewGuy.

Making sure to do my research

I did all the stuff you do when considering a new doctor (especially one doing major surgery). I read all the online reviews, read his bio on the clinic’s website, even polled my neighbors to see if any of them had gone to see him. By the time my initial appointment rolled around, I felt I knew him fairly well as a physician and a person.

Of course, he walked in totally blind to that first appointment. And being the “active participant in my healthcare” that I am, I’m fairly certain he was a bit taken aback. While he no doubt looked over my patient history at the clinic, I doubt seriously that he looked me up online to get a feel for my personality and background. The good news is that we quickly found our equilibrium and, over the course of my surgery and recovery, have had good conversations about treatment choices and outcomes that take into account both his medical expertise and my preferences.

This experience reminded me about some advice I once heard (and believe) about marriage. It was something along the lines that a good marriage means not only finding the right partner, it’s also being the right partner.

I think medical relationships are like that. You need to not only find the right doctor, you need to be the right patient. There is a lot of advice about this but, to me, it comes down to two essential parts (which also seem to work in marriage and other successful relationships). The first is open, honest communication. The second is holding up your responsibilities in the relationship or, more simply put, doing what you say you will.

I’ve talked to other people who have stated things like, “My doctor didn’t even ask me about X.” Then they’re surprised when I asked them if they told their doctor that was a concern. Somehow they expect that a medical degree includes a minor in mindreading. (I think veterinarian degrees do, but not so much people doctors.)

Having good communication

From a communication standpoint, it’s not only important that the doctor discuss your treatment with you, it’s critical that you let them know your concerns.

If I am going in to a regular checkup, I always take a list. I not only include my current needs/concerns, I make notes about my health appointments and procedures with other doctors since the last visit. And I don’t just read the list, I hand the list to my doctor so s/he knows the things I want to discuss. Sometimes we start with my list and sometimes we start with the doctor’s list, but this way we cover all the important points.

When I go in to a doctor with a specific issue, I usually go in with a goal. Sometimes it’s obvious if the appointment is for the flu or an infection. In the case of my new shoulder surgeon, he asked what he could do for me and I immediately replied, “You can schedule me for right shoulder replacement or, if you don’t agree with that treatment assessment, then we need to come up with a plan to improve the situation.” (I really did this so you can see why he might have been surprised.) But at least he knew that I had a goal of addressing my shoulder issues, even if it meant the most extreme case of replacing the shoulder.

Being a good patient

The second part of doing what you say you will is equally important – especially in medicine. If you are prescribed a treatment, and you agree with your doctor about that treatment, then it’s up to you to be a good patient, or else you’re not going to get the results you want. And if you don’t agree with it or won’t comply with it, tell your doctor so you can agree on a different option. For example, if you don’t think you can give yourself an injection and that’s what the doctor has prescribed, then say so. The doctor can recommend training with the injection procedure, using an auto-injector, or some other form of treatment that will work for you. When I was first diagnosed and prescribed a biologic, I had a co-worker who was on the same medication. She confessed that she hated the injections and often skipped them – then complained her RA was getting worse.

So if you’re struggling with your doctor/patient relationship (or other relationships for that matter), remember that it takes two. While it’s valid to ask if you have the right doctor (spouse, partner, friend, employer), it’s also critical that you assess whether you’re being the right partner in the relationship and how you might improve it.


This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • rockcandi
    2 years ago

    Great article! I love that you say to be sure that you’re being the right patient. I wasn’t for so long. I’d make a list of things to address but when I didn’t feel the doctor was listening, I’d stop with the second thing on it, never addressing many things I should’ve. When they’d tell me to stick with MTX or go back to it and I knew I didn’t want to take it bc I knew the small amount it was helping wasn’t worth the horrible way it made me feel, I’d just say ok and continue it or go back to it. If I had the same rheumy for a bit and I knew that he or she wasn’t really listening to my answer to their question of how I was feeling, I’d say fine or okay when in reality I was doing horribly. But I changed after I gave birth to my amazing, very demanding 7 week premature son with digestive and sleep issues for his first 12 months (still has sleep issues at 2 years old), and I had a bad flare immediately after he was born. Bc he needed me to stand up for myself and him, I finally became the “right patient”. I absolutely love my current rheumy. We’ve had a true partnership from the time she became my doctor when my son was 3 months old over a year and a half ago. We communicate openly, honestly, and directly. I trust her and that’s huge. She also knows she can trust me to do what I say I will. Thank you for this article. Everyone should read it and put it into practice, but especially people who have chronic and sometimes debilitating diseases.

  • Carla Kienast author
    2 years ago

    RockCandi: Thank you so much. Nothing means more to a writer than when something strikes a chord with a reader. Your comment was an amazing compliment and I truly appreciate you sharing your story!

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    2 years ago

    Carla, you sound like my wife. She has questions and concerns she expresses, she informs them of my or her health history, and she is dialed in from the time we walk in the office until we leave.

    I on the other hand have one and only one criteria. Will the provider laugh?

    I am more likely to give up on providers than Sheryl. Someone might find that a little frustrating sometimes and it is not usually the provider. 🙂

  • IamStable
    2 years ago

    Excellent advice! I do all of this too. Like i tell my family, you have to do your homework before your appointment. What’s your problem? What can the doctor do for you? What do you feel strongly about regarding your treatment? Make a list on your phone so you dont forget it.
    It sucks that experience has taught us this. Oh well.
    (And i am no longer stable)

  • CaseyH moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi IamStable, I just wanted to pop in and tell you how awesome it is that not only do you follow these great practices outlined by Carla, but you also encourage others to do so as well! That is so great. Way to be an excellent self-advocate, and advocate for others. Additionally, regarding your final sentence, I hope you’re doing alright. Is there anything we can do to help support you during this time? We’d love to see some stability return to your life, and hope we can help make this happen. We’re here for you! -Casey, Team

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator
    2 years ago

    I loved this article, Carla!! I also write a list of my doctors, appointments and/or procedures. You would think at this point I would have their names and numbers memorized by heart but I always have to Google them!

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