Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Patients love complaining about doctors

All patients have horror stories about doctors . If you attend a cocktail party and tell someone you are a doctor, they will be happy to regale you with a long  list of complaints about how terribly insensitive and uncaring doctors have become ( as compared to the mythical family doctor of the past ).

The commonest complaint is - my doctor does not share information with me. Yes, this is a valid complaint. Doctors are busy , and most will take a “need to know” approach when talking to their patients – they will only tell their patients what they feel their patient needs to know ! Most of the time, this approach works well – after all, if the problem is under control and the patient is getting better, then why burden him with information about pathophysiology and differential diagnosis ? However, not all patients will get better; and the ones who don’t will resent the fact that the doctor did not tell them everything. They will start imagining that the doctor was malicious , and that he hid information from them ( when the reality may be far simpler – he may just have been too busy to tell them all the details !)

Just complaining about the fact that the doctor does not share information with you really doesn't help anyone. It just makes you bitter, angry and unhappy – and the poor doctor may not even know that you're unhappy about the fact that he's not sharing, because he feels he has told you everything you need to know !

Patients need to learn constructive strategies, so they can work together with their doctor as active partners , rather than be passive , and then get confrontational if the outcome is poor.  Rather than be passive , patients need to learn to be assertive , and here are simple strategies you can use in order to get the information you want.

The simplest step is – Make your request for information in writing . This is much more efficient and effective , because it's very unlikely that a letter will go unanswered ( unless the doctor really does have something to hide !)  If the letter goes unanswered, please don’t jump to the wrong conclusion !  Send a reminder , with a copy to the doctors administrative superior, head of department or the director of the hospital. 9 times out of 10 , you will get a reply if you do this ! Patients are scared to do this, because they are worried that the doctor may perceive them as being troublemakers. However, a good doctor will appreciate you want to be actively engaged in your medical care, and will be happy to help !

Rather than complain that doctors don't share information , you need to provide them with simple ways and means so that they can do so easily and painlessly , without eating up into a lot of their time . Thus, you can always ask the doctor to e-mail you the results, rather than send a hard copy .

Doctors want to keep their patients happy ; and will be happy to work with you , if you make constructive suggestions and solutions which will help both you and him as well !


  1. Hi , in relation to this article what do you feel about the state of patient doctor relationship in our country ? People seem ready to complain about being ill treated , many judge there doctor's based on whatever knowledge they gain from wikipedia (which of course can never substitute a doctor's knowledge/expertise) . However , I believe(and you have the right to refute this belief of mine) that patients rarely do have an idea when malpractice is actually being done . At times , it seems a patient wants to treat their doctor more like a trader , please share your views on the same .

    Varun Jain

  2. Dear Varun,

    Yes, there are all kinds of patients, just like there are all kinds of doctors !

    Some patients do enjoy doctor-shopping - but most simply want a professional whom they can trust , who will put their best interests first, and who will help them to get better !

  3. True, there are all kinds of patients out there .

    On a slightly different note , how do you feel about the availability of information related to health care services in our country ?

    I am talking about information related to both the service offerings as well as the cost of the services not just for the Indian patient but also the patient travelling from outside .

  4. I think it's very important. After all, how will patients know where to go unless there is information about what services are available and where ! We need to compile directories and listings to help in discovery.

    The key problem is much more complex - how can patients trust the quality of the services being provided ? This is very hard to measure !


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