Patients often think doctors do nothing, but they’re wrong

Very often I ask patients about their recent visits to other doctors.  While I am taking a history, it’s important for me to know if you’ve recently been seen by another provider for the same or similar complaints and what they did, what they diagnosed you with, what they prescribed, etc.  I often get a kind of irritated response such as “Oh, he didn’t do anything” or “he said it was nothing” or “he didn’t say anything to me.”  Although I know my share of lazy doctors, I bet the vast majority of times, the doctor did do something and did say something.

Just not what the patient either wanted to hear or that their perception or comprehension was wrong.  See, I can often tell that a patient has “nothing” by just reading their triage note and taking a look at them.  Nothing serious or something self-limited that gets better with no treatment or testing that is.  Guess what, your doctor can do that too.  Certainly after a directed history and exam, a doctor can usually tell if an otherwise healthy, young(ish) patient has something very minor. In other words, he (or she) doesn’t have to order tests or give you a prescription because you have a virus.  What did he really do for you? He used his brain, experience, and training to ask the right questions and his skills at knowing what to look for on examination.   He did this to reassure you that you have “nothing.”

Now, maybe he is not a good communicator. Maybe he doesn’t have the time to sit there and explain the pathophysiology of viruses or something like benign peripheral vertigo  – and thus you feel short changed. After all he “just asked me a few questions, listened to my lungs and told me to go home and rest.”

Anyway, my point is that ask questions if you feel like you don’t understand what your doctors is thinking – but rest assured, most probably, he really didn’t just “Do nothing.” If you do this, perhaps you won’t be back in the ER with the same complaints and me having to “Do nothing” all over again.

“ER Stories” is an emergency physician who blogs at his self-titled site, ER Stories.

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