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16 'Red Flags' That Might Mean It's Time to Find a New Doctor

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It’s true that doctors have been to medical school and generally have more expertise in health issues than the average person, but at the end of the day, they’re human, too — and not every doctor is a great fit for every patient who walks through their office doors. People with chronic illnesses who see doctors regularly, often for symptoms that are difficult to diagnose or treat, know all too well that just because someone is a doctor, that doesn’t necessarily mean they know the exact right thing to do or say at all times.

This isn’t meant to bash all doctors — there are many amazing medical professionals out there, and in such a stressful and complex field of work, doctors may have a bad moment once or twice. No one is perfect. But there are certain things doctors may do or say that you may want to consider “red flags.” These are behaviors or statements that indicate they’re not willing or able to take your concerns seriously and fight for your health alongside you, and in extreme cases, may even make your health worse. These red flags may be an indication that this doctor is no longer working for you.

We asked our Mighty community to help us create a list of “red flags” that might indicate it’s time to find a new doctor. Below, check out the top 16 things they “flagged.” Of course, it’s up to you whether or not you want to find a new doctor because of these red flags. But know that you deserve to have a medical team that will listen to you and treat you with respect.

Here’s what our community had to say:

1. If they’re only willing to work with you if you agree with everything they say.

“Saying they’ll only work with you if you agree with their opinion or do exactly what they say. I had a psychiatrist say I had to accept her diagnosis and had to make a medication change that I refused to make, because I’d made that change in the past and gotten into a scary extreme state. She hinted that if I didn’t do what she wanted, I’d be discharged from all services at the mental health agency (not just seeing her). That ended up not happening, but it felt awful to feel like she had that kind of power and would use it in order to get me to do something I had good reason to believe wouldn’t be in my best interest.” — Cat P.

“When your psychiatrist doesn’t collaborate with you. It’s a team effort. You know your body and they know your stuff. When you offer suggestions and they dismiss you… Musts: have a sense of humor and doesn’t treat me like a number.” — Christina M.

2. If they assume all your illness symptoms are caused by your mental health.

“I brought a list of physical symptoms I had been experiencing along with my chronic migraines and he wrote them off, saying ‘All of these symptoms are caused by your anxiety.’ I cried after that appointment and began to think it was all my fault that I was experiencing this pain. I will never go back to him again.” — Carina

“Biggest red flag: doctors blaming symptoms on anxiety without actually investigating a patient’s health concerns.” — Katie S.

3. If they dismiss your symptoms based on your age.

“I told my primary care doctor about my severe lower back pain and she told me I was getting ‘older’ and that I ‘needed to expect a little pain in life.’ I have had rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for 20 years… and gave natural childbirth with my first child. I think at age 64 I know about pain.” — Diane W.

“[A] red flag is when doctors undermine health concerns based on age. Being sick is not exclusive to seniors, anyone can become ill.” — Katie S.

4. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing a certain aspect of your health with them.

“Today I found myself telling my pain doctor, ‘Ohhh, I don’t bring up my chronic pain anymore with my primary care doctor. Anytime I do, she gets weird about it and discounts what I have to say.’ Then I thought about what I said and realized, if I’m holding back from talking to my primary doctor about anything – she’s not the doctor for me. Even my pain doctor chimed in, ‘Wow, I’m glad she’s not my primary.’” — Crystal H.

5. If they focus more on a particular treatment than discovering and treating the cause.

“When the doctor is more worried about getting you on another new medication or upping the dose of a current one instead of finding a reason for whatever is going on. When there is more interest in sweeping the real problems under the rug — be it mentally or physically — that should be a major red flag. At that point, we are letting ourselves lose. Make sure your doctor has concern for your health enough to give you a solid answer, and if they don’t, then fight for yourself and find one. You deserve it!” — Courtney F.

6. If they tell you, “You can’t be helped.”

“‘You can’t be helped. You have no more options.’ From a psychiatrist. I walked out and could have died that day because I walked to the middle of the street while manic. Wanted to take a bus home but had no money and didn’t know where I was. Finally I had someone pick me up (called collect) and I never went back to her. This still haunts me to this day.” — Daniela V.

“An ultimate red flag for me would be a doctor saying: ‘You should accept your illness and stop looking for answers…’ This was the same doctor who said, I should ‘put my pain in a box and shove it under my bed.’ I thought he was joking, but he was dead serious.” — Lenthe S.

7. If they aren’t open-minded about new treatments.

“When a doctor isn’t open-minded to discuss new treatments, it’s not a good sign. I once inquired about a new medication I read about for Crohn’s/colitis. The doctor said, ‘You mean that Fifth Avenue designer drug?’ I don’t find it funny when a doctor uses humor in an insensitive or dismissive way. I would have rather her explained the medicine. (Follow up: another GI prescribed the medicine after explaining it thoroughly. I actually told him my story about the prior doctor, and the joke he made in response was funnier!) Doctors: humor is appreciated at the right time!” — Angelica C.

8. If they are distracted during your appointment.

“My therapist of four years left for another job in July so I was transferred to another therapist. During our second appointment, she got me from the lobby while on her cell phone, walking me down the hall to her office, explaining to me that she is trying to get ahold of her heating company. She apologizes when we reach her office and then hangs up. In the middle of our appointment, she answers her cell phone and had a conversation with the heating company and then said she needed to call her husband to wake him up at home when they arrive… ‘I don’t normally do this.’ ‘I’ll give you 15 extra minutes next time.’ I cancelled all of my appointments for the month with her the next day.” — Cats N.

9. If they aren’t interested in looking at your current medical records.

“I saw a rheumatologist for a high fever (102+) I’ve been having for over two years. I had seen a different rheumatologist in 2010, but my ANA was negative in 2010. Eight years later, during a major flare, in 2018, my ANA came back positive. The rheumatologist was pretty condescending to me, and kept referring to things from my 2010 file (it was the same hospital). I asked him if he had my recent results and current file, since this flare was different and worse. He rolled his eyes and said, ‘Blood tests are like eye color. Once you have your result, it doesn’t change.’ And refused to even look at my current medical records. I was speechless. I had driven four hours to see this person. He went on to tell me there was nothing wrong with me. They tried to set up a followup when I was leaving, but I told them not to bother.” — Sara J.

10. If they say nothing is wrong with you because the tests didn’t find anything.

“When your pain is dismissed as ‘not real’ after one test hasn’t found anything. Time for a second opinion.” — Jeena R.

“An ER doc saying ‘ME/CFS did not show up on your blood test, so you mustn’t have it!’” — Savannah W.

11. If the receptionist is difficult.

“Receptionists… sometimes they stress me out so bad I’d rather do anything than make my own doctor’s appointment.” — Paula S.

“This is one of my biggest issues with my doctor’s office. I will go weeks without my pain medicine, just because it gives me anxiety attacks thinking about having to call and talk to this one receptionist they have. She is nice as can be until she finds out what I am calling for, and then talks to me like I am trash when she realizes I am calling to get my pain medicine refilled.” — Lisa S.

12. If they blame all your symptoms on your weight without thoroughly investigating.

“‘You really need to lose weight.’ Without looking at my chart to see I [had lost weight]. Without offering help, support, suggestions or considering underlying conditions/medication that might cause weight gain.” — Lauren R.

“‘You would cure your endometriosis if you just lost some weight.’ Was actually told this by an OB/GYN.” — Briea B.

13. If they ask you not to contact them, or don’t respond when you do.

“A doctor told me that after this next series of tests they will call me if something comes up and not to call them. Um, excuse me, I will call — because too many times to count have they missed stuff. Since when is it bad to be proactive about our own health?” — Laura D.

14. If they interrupt or don’t listen when you’re speaking.

“That they won’t listen to me when I speak, instead they try to speak over me. If a doctor won’t stop and actually listen, it means they don’t respect you. When they don’t respect you, they won’t be willing to give you the care you deserve.” — Ashley C.

“When they are obviously not listening to your concerns, or just blow them off.” — Teresa P.

“If you explain your symptoms and they try to read back to you totally different things and don’t seem to be listening/understanding. (Ex: first appointment with a psychiatrist for delusions, saw she circled ‘hallucinations’ on her chart; she was also visibly worried, which wasn’t comforting.)” — Pixie S.

15. If they don’t remember who you are.

“When you have to remind them who you are, what your problems are, what meds you’re on and why at every visit.” — Manda R.

“I had one urologist that (after five appointments, mind you) walked in the room and said, ‘What’s your diagnosis again?’ And then ‘OK what did I prescribe?’ and then, ‘OK double that’ and walked out. Ummmm….no.” — Deena H.

16. If you’re doing more research on your illness than they are.

“Me having to educate my doctor on my illness that was diagnosed nine years ago… me having to do research on meds that might help with the pain, having to refer myself to specialists.” — Tina S.

“When you realize you know more about your disease than your doctor.” — Jill F.

Can you relate?

Originally published: October 11, 2018
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