Meeting a new doctor

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson


I sympathise with you if you’re dissatisfied with your doctor but afraid to find a new one. Some positive self-talk can help in such a situation. You don’t have to leave the doctor you have until you’ve found one more suitable, so seeing a new doctor won’t leave you without medical care if the visit doesn’t yield positive results. Seeking a doctor better able to help you is not an act of disloyalty to your current doctor. Moreover, it is an important step on the way to improving the quality of your own life, which should be your most important consideration. There is a saying among people who earn their living in sales: each ‘no’ brings you one step closer to your next ‘yes’. I suggest that each non productive meeting with a new doctor brings you that much closer to the right doctor for you. What’s really at risk in meeting a new doctor is the price of the office visit. While that’s not trivial, it fades in importance compared to your need and desire to be as healthy as you can be.

This article first appeared in the Fibromyalgia Magazine. Why not subscribe and receive the latest Fibromyalgia News every month?

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Take the time required to prepare for your meeting with a doctor you hope to hire for your medical care committee. Write a brief medical history listing in separate sections child- hood illnesses and immunisations, major illnesses, surgeries, injuries and allergies. Add a section for fibromyalgia symptoms, including date of onset of each, what you tried and with what results. You probably have a great deal to say about each of these categories. Write it all out, but then edit carefully, omitting as many extraneous details as you can and leaving out descriptive words such as severe, terrible, and so forth. Be as factual and unemotional as you can. Although you’re talking about yourself, your written information will make the best impression if you can present it in a detached manner, somewhat the way a doctor would write to another one about a patient, except that you’ll use your own words, not medical jargon.


Then write a covering letter in which you introduce yourself as a human being, not a medical case. Again, be as concise as you can be, but let the doctor know of your distress at the situation in which you find yourself. Stress your desire to feel well and be able to function fully. Say that you have done what you could do to educate yourself about fibromyalgia, and that you are looking for someone who will help you learn more about self-management of the condition. Mention the actions you are taking to improve your well-being, and add that you are open to suggestions of more and better things to try. In doing this, you will make it clear that you are trying hard to take a positive approach and are not expecting a miracle on the first visit. If that doesn’t show the doctor that you are a person worthy of help and capable of being helped, nothing will and you may as well stay with the doctor you are currently seeing.


If there’s time, mail your letter and history to the doctor in advance of your appointment. Go to the appointment with a written list of two or three of your most pressing questions or problems. Be sure that the material you prepared is given to the doctor.

Try to meet the doctor while you are still fully clothed so that the first impression you create is of an adult in control of herself and trying to be well, not a sick, submissive person. If you must disrobe first, at least be seated in a chair and not up on the examining table when the doctor walks in, stand up if you can and offer to shake hands. This is the way you establish the relationship as one of adult to adult, rather than child to parent or, perish the thought, worshipper to a god.


Over several decades and more disappointments than I can count, I have learned to view my relationship with my doctor as a business relationship in which I am buying the doctor’s time and advice based on her training and knowledge. I once asked my doctor–before I signed on to her service–if she would have a problem knowing that I intended to use her as my consultant and make my own decisions. She beamed. ‘That’s exactly what I want, too,’ she said. When we meet to solve a health problem of mine, we know that we are bringing different perspectives and collections of knowledge to bear, and we work as a team,

respectful of each other.


Your advocate


The third member of your basic medical team is your advocate. This should be someone you trust: your spouse, life partner, a family member, or a good friend. Most often your advocate will be an almost-silent partner, available if you need help and someone with whom to explore ideas and strategies. When you are in crisis, however, you may want your advocate to speak for you and will surely want her or him to accompany you on your visit to the doctor. My husband drove me to the visit during which I got my FM diagnosis because I was too sick to drive myself. I wanted him in the examining room with me because I was in such bad shape cognitively that I didn’t trust myself to remember what the doctor said. Since then there have been times when I needed his company, but I make sure that he knows the results anytime I see or speak with my doctor. He has my medical power-of-attorney, a legal form on file in my medical records with a copy at home where he can find it. He has the authority to make decisions on my behalf if ever I am unable to speak for myself. I find it very reassuring to have this arrangement and recommend it to you.


Think of this triad–your doctor, your advocate and you–as the steering committee that oversees your health care. If you think you need a referral to a specialist, that might well be a decision for the steering committee. The right doctor for you is one willing to recognise when he or she lacks the specific knowledge you need and to refer you to a specialist for a consultation. In the best of circumstances, though, the specialist will suggest a course of treatment or action to you and your doctor but will not continue to treat you unless the situation demands it. It is of utmost importance that your GP know the details of your treatment.

Otherwise, you risk having prescriptions that conflict with each other, possibly causing adverse interactions. There are exceptions to this requirement of extensive communication between GP and specialist, how- ever, in the case of a referral for emotional counselling–often a very good idea if you are new to this diagnosis and need some time to express anger and grief.

Also, auxiliary medical professionals such as physios and occupational therapists don’t need to report in detail, but your GP should know if you are seeing them.


Standing up for yourself


You need to stand up for yourself in all matters pertaining to your medical care. You have the right to receive respectful, considerate, nondiscriminatory treatment at all times, to take part in all decisions pertaining to your medical treatment and to get a full explanation, in terms you can understand, of the pros and cons of any course of action.





Publication details


The Fibromyalgia Relief Book: 213 Ideas for Improving Your Quality of Life

by Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

ISBN 1-86508-265-1 (paperback)

This article first appeared in the Fibromyalgia Magazine. Why not subscribe and receive the latest Fibromyalgia News every month?

More information here.