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When doctors don’t listen, patients can suffer

On Behalf of Cronin & Maxwell

If it feels like your doctors seem to have less and less time to spend with you and don’t focus on what you tell them, you’re not alone. Doctors’ schedules are more packed than ever. One 2016 study found that, on average, doctors saw over 20 patients every day.

That’s likely at least one reason they often don’t listen to what a patient tells them about the reason for their visit or any issues they’re having before interrupting. Researchers who videotaped over 100 interactions between patients and physicians for another study published in 2018 found that just over a third of the doctors asked the patient why they were there. Of the over two-thirds of those who did ask, they interrupted the patient an average of 11 seconds in.

Someone who the patient sees ahead of the doctor generally asks them what they’ve come in for, whether it’s a routine checkup or a new set of problems. However, patients may not want to share that information with a nurse they don’t know -– let alone the person scheduling the appointment.

Signs that your doctor isn’t really listening

So besides acting rushed and interrupting, what else can indicate that you don’t have your doctor’s full attention? Here are a few signs:

  • They’re busy typing notes into a computer or (even worse) looking at their phone.
  • They don’t seem to take your symptoms seriously.
  • They focus on one symptom you mention and don’t address others.
  • They ask you questions from a checklist.

This last one may be part of a routine physical exam. However, these shouldn’t be the only questions they ask and certainly not without follow-ups based on your answers.

How can you help make sure you’re heard?

Preparation is key. Before you go in, write down or make a list on your phone of the things you want to ask or tell your doctor and use it. Don’t be afraid to repeat a question or concern if you believe your doctor didn’t address it adequately.

Bring a family member in with you. They can help you assert your concerns and follow up. They can also be a witness to anything you’re told.

Too often, patients suffer because a doctor didn’t hear them or because of some other communication issue. If that’s the case, you may have grounds for a malpractice action. You’ll want to learn more about the legal options that you can pursue if it seems like you indeed have a valid claim.

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