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What to Do if Your Doctor Isn’t Listening to You

The modern healthcare experience can be frustrating. Patients often feel like they are an inconvenience to the hospital, doctors, and the insurance company. It shouldn’t be so hard to get decent medical care. Unfortunately, many patients just come to expect that they won’t get much one-on-one time with a doctor who will take the time to listen to their concerns. 

When a doctor doesn’t listen to you, it can cause serious problems. A doctor may not take into account all your symptoms or complaints into making a diagnosis, risking a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. Your doctor may not answer your questions about the risks and benefits of an upcoming operation, leading to side effects you were never warned about. In some cases, this mistreatment can lead to medical malpractice. 

If you suffered an unnecessary injury, delayed diagnosis, or other medical harm because of a doctor who wouldn’t listen to you, you may have a claim for damages. If you have questions about whether you have a case and what to do next, contact an experienced medical malpractice law firm

What Can I Do If the Doctor Isn’t Listening?

If you don’t think your doctor is listening, there are some steps you can take to make sure you have a medical professional who is willing to listen, communicate clearly, and help you receive the best medical care available. According to the Department of Health, patients get better healthcare when the patient and doctor work together as a team. Patients should look for doctors who: 

  • Treat them with respect
  • Listen to their opinions and concerns
  • Encourages them to ask questions
  • Explains things in ways they understand

Some ways to find a doctor that works for you include considering what kind of patient you might be. For example, younger patients and working parents seeking care may prioritize convenience. If a patient has a history of certain medical problems, they may want a healthcare system that makes it easier to see specialists, including referrals and sharing medical records. 

When you choose a doctor, you don’t have to stay with the first doctor you see. Look for a doctor that makes you feel comfortable. It can be important to see when a doctor listens without interrupting and makes sure the patient understands everything and has their questions answered. 

For some patients, getting a referral from a friend or family member can be helpful. However, what works for one patient may not work for another. Just because your co-worker says they have a great doctor does not mean that the same doctor will be the right one for your medical care.  

According to an article from Johns Hopkins Medicine in Maryland, it is crucial to have a strong relationship with your primary care provider to get the most out of every visit. Some elements to maximize your visit and help your doctor understand you better include: 

  • Prepare Before Your Visit: Prioritize your concerns and address a list of topics you want to discuss.
  • Be Open: Don’t be afraid to bring up things that might be embarrassing if they are relevant to your care, including aspects of your lifestyle and relationships. 
  • Get Clarification: Doctors often present too much information in medical terminology in a very short time. Ask questions so you understand what the doctor is telling you. 
  • Collaborate: When you are presented with a treatment plan, ask about the risk, benefits, and alternatives available so you can be in charge of making the best decisions for your care. 

Be Prepared and Talk About Your Plans

Many patients leave everything up to the doctor and hospital. The patients show up for visits and then do any tests ordered by the hospital and take any prescribed medications. However, these patients may have questions about their care that never get answered because they never ask in the first place. 

When you want to communicate with your doctor, be prepared. Write down your questions ahead of time and address each one. You can also prepare what you are going to say to your doctor, like presenting a sales pitch. Consider the what, when, where, and why of your care, for example: 

  • What are my options?
  • Why do I need to take this medication?
  • Where on the MRI does it show a suspicious mass?
  • When can I have a follow-up?

You may walk into the doctor’s office with medical concerns about 2 separate issues. However, after mentioning the first, the doctor may focus on that and before you know it, you are driving home and realize you never asked about the second issue. A list of your questions can also help you focus on why you went to the doctor in the first place. You can also be prepared by bringing any relevant paperwork, including medical records, prescriptions, and family medical history. 

Doctor’s Education vs. Patient Experience

Doctors do have years of medical education, training, and practical experience in healthcare. However, that is only part of medical care for a patient. As the patient, you know your body better than anyone. You’ve lived in your body for years, and understand what feels normal and when it feels like something is off. Your experience may not be the same as how the doctor anticipates you will respond. 

If a doctor only focuses on what they know from training and experience but doesn’t apply it to your situation and your complaints, then the patient may not be receiving the best healthcare, in spite of the doctor’s credentials. There have been plenty of examples of a patient with a condition that the doctor is unable to diagnose, only to have a nurse or physician’s assistant figure out the problem just because they take the time to listen to the patient.  

Talking to the Doctor About Listening to Your Concerns

It can be uncomfortable to be direct with the doctor about your concerns. Some doctors take a dominant role in the doctor-patient relationship. You may feel like the doctor is talking over you and not respecting your concerns. The first thing to try is speaking up. Let the doctor know that you’re not feeling listened to and the doctor can do better by listening to your feedback. However, it may not be as helpful to complain when you don’t have specific examples. If you can be specific about your concerns, the doctor may be able to respond to improve patient care. 

However, if you try your best and the doctor still isn’t listening, the best thing to do may be to find a new doctor. 

My Doctor Won’t Give Me My Medical Records

Even when you do decide to go find a new doctor, dealing with the old doctor to finalize your care can be difficult. You may have outstanding bills and want to get a copy of your medical records before you see a new doctor. Even though you have the right to your own medical records, it can be hard to get a copy of your records

Your doctor can make excuses about accessing your records. Your medical records are covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Under HIPAA laws, providers have to provide patients with a copy of their health information. After a patient makes a formal request in writing, the healthcare provider has up to 30 days to provide a copy of the individual’s health information. 

Should I Find a New Doctor?

If your doctor is not listening and not responding to your attempts to repair the situation, you may want to find a doctor who will listen. Unfortunately, many patients are reluctant to get a new doctor, or even get a second opinion. Reasons may include feeling like they, as the patient, are the problem, or having difficulty dealing with their medical insurance provider to get a new doctor.

The benefits of seeing a new doctor include getting more medical information from more sources. A new doctor will be able to review your information and give you a diagnosis, even if it’s based on the same information you provided to your prior doctor. A new doctor could even come to a different result based on the same exam, symptoms, and diagnostics.

Another unfortunate limit of getting a new doctor involves dealing with the insurance company. A patient’s healthcare and insurance plan can limit which doctors are eligible for covered care and which are not. You may find a doctor you like but if they are not in your insurance plan, it can be prohibitively expensive to see them for regular care. There may be limited options in which doctors are available for new patients, when you can get an appointment, and which doctors are located in your area. 

Doctors Disconnected and Burned Out

Doctor burnout can be associated with a doctor who doesn’t listen to the patient. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), “physician burnout is defined as a long‑term stress reaction characterized by depersonalization. Doctors who are experiencing burnout can express: 

  • Lack of empathy for patients
  • Negative attitudes toward patients
  • Cynical approach to patient care
  • Disconnect in patient interaction
  • Lack of patience with patients 

If your doctor’s failure to listen is associated with burnout, it can negatively impact healthcare in other ways. Some burned-out doctors can have problems with sleep deprivation, increasing the risk of medical errors. According to a report published in the Annals of Surgery, many doctors who reported making medical errors attributed the mistakes to stress or fatigue.

Is a Hospital Liable for Doctors Who Don’t Listen?

If a doctor hasn’t responded to your concerns then you may not have much faith that the doctor would improve their care, even after a lawsuit. In some cases, the hospital can also be liable for medical negligence. In many medical malpractice lawsuits, your attorney could name both the doctor and the hospital or clinic as defendants in the claim. 

When is a hospital liable for a doctor’s errors? A hospital could be liable for a doctor’s errors if the doctor was an employee or there was apparent authority that the doctor worked for the hospital. 

Vicarious Liability of a Hospital for Employee Actions

Under tort claims in the U.S., an employer can be liable for the negligence of an employee when the employee is acting within the scope of employment. This is known as vicarious liability or respondeat superior. This includes a hospital’s responsibility for the negligence of a doctor employed by the hospital. To find the hospital liable for damages, the plaintiff must show: 

  • There was an employer-employee relationship; 
  • The employee was working at the time; and
  • The act was committed within the scope of employment.

Was the Doctor an Employee or Independent Contractor of the Hospital?

Many doctors are independent contractors and not direct employees of the hospital. When a doctor is not an employee, the hospital may not be liable for the negligence of an independent contractor. However, in some situations the hospital could be considered responsible if it was reasonable to believe the doctor was an employee. 

Under apparent authority, a hospital could be considered like an employer if there was reason to believe the doctor was an employee. For example, in a Baltimore medical malpractice claim, the elements for apparent authority include:  

  • Did the apparent principal create, or acquiesce in, the appearance that an agency relationship existed? 
  • Did the plaintiff believe that an agency relationship existed and rely on that belief in seeking the services of the apparent agent? 
  • Were the plaintiff’s beliefs and reliance reasonable?

If the Doctor’s Treatment Caused Medical Injuries

A doctor failing to listen to the patient or address their concerns is not just bad customer service. When a doctor fails to provide care that conforms with medical standards, and it leads to a medical injury, the doctor may have committed medical malpractice. Patients who were injured as a result of a bad doctor-patient relationship should speak out to make sure these kinds of injuries don’t happen to others. 

If you suspect you were the victim of a medical injury because your doctor didn’t listen to you, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries. Call experienced medical malpractice attorneys who can look at your case, answer your questions, and help you understand your legal options to file a claim against a negligent doctor. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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