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Do not let a fixable "bump in the road" in your relationship with your doctor mar your time together or cause you to switch doctors. Do what you can to fix the bumps, including the good old fashioned method of speaking up. Like the rest of us, doctors are not mind readers.

Following are some typical situations patients complain about. The other sections of this article have suggestions about how to handle each situation. 

  • A doctor cuts you off, or dismisses your concerns, or talks over your head.
  • You have no connection with the doctor.
  • The way the doctor speaks to you is uncomfortable for you, and you want your doctor to interact with you differently.
  • What the doctor charges is a problem.
  • You're kept waiting.
  • You keep getting billed more than you should.
  • There are continuing disagreements between you and the doctor.

As a general matter, we do not encourage switching doctors. However, if the bumps become too big, seriously consider changing doctors. 

A Doctor Cuts You Off, Or Dismisses Your Concerns, Or Talks Over Your Head

Speak up. Let the doctor know the problem and how you feel about it. Don't attack the doctor as wrong. The doctor will be less defensive if you state the problem more in terms of how you are feeling about what she does or does not do, instead of focusing on her actions.

If the situation doesn't change, it could mean it's time for you to change doctors.

You Have No Connection With The Doctor

If you have no connection, but still think the doctor is the best, find someone in the office with whom you can connect. It could be that the key is an experienced, knowledgeable doctor -- but it could also be that you need more. If the lack of connection continues to be a problem for you over time, look around for another doctor.

The Way The Doctor Speaks To You Is Uncomfortable For You, And You Want Your Doctor To Interact With You Differently

Communication is a two way street. Express yourself with the hope that you will have a more positive dialogue in the future.

Alternatively, we also know patients who have anonymously written to their doctors suggesting they visit offsite link and read the chapter on physician-patient communication. The focus of the site is to help doctors learn to communicate better with patients.

On the other hand, we also know of a patient who said to his doctor: "You're ice cold." The doctor's response was: "And what else is on your mind?"  In this case, the patient decided the doctor's knowledge and experience were more important than the missing bed side manner.

What The Doctor Charges Is A Problem

It may sound unusual, but more patients are negotiating with their doctor to receive a discount.

Some doctors won't even talk about discounts. However, a Harris poll found that of those consumers who asked for a discount on a medical bill, almost half of them say they succeeded.

The key is to offer to pay the discounted fee immediately -- rather than pay the doctor over a period of time.

If you're not up to it, ask a friend or family member to negotiate for you.

Note: Medicaid and Medicare prohibit any such negotiations.

If You Are Kept Waiting

For tips about what to do while waiting, see the Survivorship A to Z document: If Your Doctor Usually Keeps You Waiting.

If a long wait is the norm for seeing a particular doctor, consider changing doctors. We do not recommend this lightly, but time is precious. It is something we can't get back once it is gone. As they say, "life is not a rehearsal." For information about how to change doctors, see: How To Switch Doctors

If the doctor does not acknowledge that he or she has kept you waiting for a long period of time such as saying: "I apologize for the long wait. We're very busy today.":

  • Consider mentioning it when you are with the doctor. 
    • Be polite. Let him or her know you understand that a doctor's office can get uncontrollably busy. (There are emergencies and some patients need more time than allotted).
    • Suggest that you are okay with this happening when it has to, but that you would also like your time to be considered and need the doctor to recognize that your time is also important.
    • Consider asking for an apology.
    • Experience indicates that it is best to wait until the end of your session with the doctor instead of bringing it up at the beginning of the meeting. 
  • Alternatively, consider writing an e mail or a letter.
    • When David S. brought up the problem at the beginning of a meeting, his doctor responded by saying "You're being negative. Is that what you're here for." (Actually, it happened twice in 2 years). He wrote the following letter:


It was almost two weeks ago that we last saw each other, but the meeting continues to stay with me.From my perspective, we have a partnership to promote wellness and take care of health problems as they arise. The key word in that sentence is “partnership.”

During our time together, there have been two times when you’ve kept me waiting for over an hour. Each time, when I brought up the subject, your response was to tell me that my reaction was “hostile” – and changed the subject to the matter at hand.It’s left me feeling like I’m in an abusive relationship- the kind of relationship I do my best to avoid.

The fact that a doctor with a busy practice like yours runs late occasionally is to be expected. All that I personally need is a simple: “I apologize for keeping you waiting” or some such recognition of the value of my time as well as the necessities of your practice.

I would still appreciate that apology, and hope that if time does get away again, that it will be acknowledged.

All best,David 

You Keep Getting Billed More Than You Should

Let the doctor know.

Be sure the bills are corrected.

If insurance pays your medical bills, check with the company to be sure the company isn't paying more than it should. It's easy to think of the insurance company as "them," but extra costs increase everyone's premiums.

There Are Continuing Disagreements Between You And The Doctor

  • Pinpoint the cause of the disagreement (such as the doctor wants to make decisions for you, or you're not told everything you want to know.)
  • Rather than letting the problem color your discussions, or come up at an inappropriate time, let the doctor know you're having a problem. Set a meeting to discuss the problems you're having or time to discuss them during your next visit.

Before the meeting:

  • Decide on the outcome you want. For example, is your preference to stay with the doctor or to switch. (If you're considering switching, see Switching Doctors.)
  • Plan what you want to talk about, and how you will talk about it.
  • Rehearse what you want to say and how you want to say it. If you would be more comfortable, write a letter and make sure it's received before your next visit.
  • Deal with one problem at a time.
  • Think about what objections the doctor may have and prepare answers for them. Never assume the doctor has objections unless and until you hear them.
  • Keep in mind that differences in opinion can usually be worked through if you're prepared to negotiate differences.
  • Decide what consequences will occur if the disagreement remains, and how to best communicate those consequences to the doctor.
  • If any documentation is involved, send or drop off a copy of it to the doctor before the meeting and let him know you want to discuss it at the meeting.

If the problem isn't resolved, consider switching doctors. See Switching Doctors.