Here’s a no-brainer: When most people get sick, they go to the doctor. The doctor diagnoses them and (hopefully!) prescribes a cure, maybe an antibiotic combined with a few days of chicken soup and Netflix. Easy!
But for those of us living with chronic health conditions, our doctor/patient relationship status can often be “it’s complicated”. Our diagnoses aren’t cut-and-dry, and our symptoms don’t always fit into a standard doctor’s patient blueprint or have an easily identifiable problem that has a prescribed treatment; a pill won’t solve the “problem” when it’s chronic! And with so few doctors trained to automatically look for, understand and treat chronic conditions, choosing the right doctor or team of doctors can be a daunting process!
If this sounds like a situation you face, I can totally relate. I dealt for years with chronic fatigue, back pain, and a grab-bag of other symptoms that sent me to more than 30 different doctors before I turned 30! You could say I went to the School of Hard Knocks when it came to learning how to find, choose, and work with the right doctors and other health care practitioners. I sat in dozens of waiting rooms, listened to countless doctors advise me through every type of treatment, medication, holistic remedy, you name it.
My health saga turned me into an expert patient, and an advocate for others like me who are determined to beat their illnesses and live well. Whether you’re a newbie to the CC Club (Chronic Conditions Club!) or a seasoned member in the market for a new doctor, these tips will help you find the best doctor for your individual needs. No waiting room necessary!
1. “The Best” Isn’t Always the Best for YOU.
From gastroenterologists to infectious disease specialists (yup, I even had parasites!) I visited some of “The Best” doctors in their fields. And you know what I found? The doctor who is most specialized, most expensive, most highly acclaimed… might not be the right fit for you.
I had grown up believing the right doctor could figure it all out and prescribe a magic pill to make me feel better; I put blind faith in doctors who dismissed my symptoms, misdiagnosed me, and prescribed harmful amounts of Thyroid medication that could have killed me – and they were supposed to be the best in the biz!
Make a list of qualities YOU want in your dream doctor (“confident”, “optimistic”, “makes time for me”, “convenient location” are good places to start) and don’t settle for anything less. Go for the dream. What would make you feel like you have a great partner? What qualities do you want in your teammate on your road to radical wellness and healing? There are GREAT doctors and other healthcare providers out there, and you can find them.
2. Shop Around
This is the last thing I wanted to do when I was feeling so weak, frightened and overwhelmed by what was happening in my body. Still, it’s important to find the right doctors, even if it means making appointments and giving them a test run. While that sounds daunting (and potentially expensive), it’s worse and more costly, in so many ways, to stay with a doctor or practitioner who misdiagnoses your issue or doesn’t understand it and, as a result, can’t launch you on your journey to health.
Think about it this way: Do you hire the first person who walks into a job interview? Would you buy or rent the first apartment you see? Of course not. You want to work with people who give you the right quality of work and attention, and you want to live in a place that makes you feel safe and at ease. Feel free to hire and fire when necessary.
3. Seek Out a Broad Perspective
The CDC reports that today 1 in 2 people in our country have at least one chronic health condition. This simple fact demands that we look at healthcare in a different than we have before. Not all doctors are created equal. The most knowledgeable specialists treating one condition might not have a clue about your other symptoms, though they could be related. I suffered from terrible back pain as a kid, only to find out years later that it was caused by a gluten allergy! Unbeknownst to all the back doctors and chiropractors who couldn’t figure out why on earth a 14 year old girl was in constant pain.
If your symptoms are complex or if you have more than one health issue to contend with, you need a doctor who is up to the challenge. Ideally, we need to seek guidance from people who are ready and available (and excited) to look outside the standard patient’s ailments to find out what the root cause of our condition is. This is just one more reason to seek out doctors who see you as an individual, rather than a case file, and see your condition as something to truly manage and heal, rather than as a diagnosis to medicate.
I have found that those of us with Chronic Conditions need someone who looks at our entire system, pulls information from both Eastern and Western philosophies and treatments, and puts a strong emphasis on lifestyle and diet. It is important to remember that your body is made up of multiple systems that all need to be working in order for you to be healthy, whole, and thriving.
4. Trust Yourself
There is a stigmatic power that doctors have, what with their white lab coats, charts, and stethoscopes. It’s as if that white coat gives them some magic ability to answer every question correctly and decide your fate with the swipe of a tongue depressor! But no doctor has magical powers. Not only can doctors be wrong, but also they can simply be wrong for you. And that’s okay.
The bottom line is this: No one cares more about your healing than you. You are the captain of your ship. You are the boss. You don’t have to settle for the get-’em-in-and-get-’em-out attitude that some physicians have, or contend with with crowded waiting rooms and too much paperwork (often through no fault of their own) offer. You have every right to let doctors know your concerns and experiences, good and bad.
You have every right to forego a treatment, seek a second opinion, and otherwise speak your mind when something doesn’t feel right to you. Pay attention to the signs your body is sending you, especially your gut. Listen to your intuition.
5. Be Your Best Advocate
This is the most important lesson I learned along my journey, and the one I want to impart upon anyone who feels overwhelmed, frustrated, or helpless in the face of chronic illness. When I began my health journey, I just wanted to be fixed. I didn’t feel connected to my body or in control of my health. I wanted someone else to to just handle it for me.
This was before I understood that no one would or could handle me better than myself. I wish I could reach back to my naïve, terrified, and deeply pained twenty-five-year-old self and give her a hug, sweetly and softly, and say, “Amy. You got this. You can connect with yourself and know what is right. You know what feels right.”
I learned that if you don’t get on the court, it is easy to stay a victim of your circumstance, especially when it comes to your health care. You know your body better than anyone. You must become an educated health consumer. You deserve health care that is informed and compassionate and thorough.
Find out as much as you can about your condition. Don’t be intimidated, and don’t stop asking thoughtful questions. You have to put yourself first, even on bad days. You are not a helpless victim. You are in control of your own destiny. You got this.
You can find this and so much more on this topic in my book, Kicking Sick.