Going to the doctor isn’t ever pleasant. Whether you’re sick or just getting an annual check-up, we can all agree that only a select few fetishists enjoy being measured, poked, and prodded while wearing crinkly paper gowns. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, doctors — most of whom love their jobs and want to help you live a happier life — have it just as hard as their patients. They have to contend with real illness, fake illness, difficult to diagnose maladies, drug abusers, malpractice issues, resources, insurance… it’s no walk in the park.
In the spirit of making everyone’s life easier, one doctor spoke to us about some of the things she wishes she could tell anyone about to visit the doctor’s office. Priyanka Wali is a San Francisco-based physician who sees all types of people and has treated and diagnosed every illness under the sun. There’s pretty much nothing she hasn’t seen before (including that rash you’ve been wondering about). She gave us the lowdown on what patients should do, what she wishes they’d stop doing, and how to make your appointment as pain-free and productive as possible.
Don’t come in with a WebMD diagnosis, just take a deep breath and relax
“Don’t come to the doctor’s office and tell me what you think it is,” Wali says. “If you’re coming to me with a cough, don’t tell me what you think it is because you’ve googled the worst-case scenario. Let me figure it out, that’s my job. Just relax. All you have to do is try and answer the questions that I’m asking and just relax.”
That may sound like it’s taking some of the control away from the patient, but Wali isn’t against people being well-informed. The issue, she says, is that WebMD heightens the anxiety already present just from needing to see the doctor. “Patients come in believing that they’re afflicted with something very serious. Most of the time, it’s not as bad as they believe.” WebMD, Wali says, “basically doesn’t know what it’s talking about. And it’s only going to make things worse.”
What is helpful, Wali says, is to think of your visit beforehand and create a list of things that you want to make sure to talk about. Bring it in with you, maybe even hand it to the doctor, and you’re going to have a much more productive meeting because you’ll be focusing on the real issues and not mindless small talk about how much your landlord sucks (something that Wali says is a far too common occurrence).
Don’t apologize for your body
“Don’t apologize for needing to get undressed,” Wali says. “Lots of people reflexively say ‘I’m really sorry, this is super gross’ when they have to take off their clothes and show a doctor something they’re concerned about.” But doctors, Wali says, have seen it all. “Your body is your body. Don’t apologize for it.”
It’s part of your doctor’s job to tell you things you might not like hearing
One of the biggest fears that patients have is being told that they’re unhealthy. We’re not talking about unhealthy with a capital U (like cancer or diabetes), but the kind of unhealthy that’s much more routine. If you’re overweight or engage in activities that are detrimental to your health your doctor is duty-bound to tell you.
“I will tell you to quit smoking if you’re smoking,” Wali says. “I will tell you to stop doing bad things if they’re harmful to your body. That’s my job. But don’t be ashamed of who you are. My goal is the same as yours. I want to help you, I want to make you better. I’m not here to shame you or make you feel worse.”
Doctors don’t want to make you feel bad about yourself and they don’t have the time for it either.
“I don’t have the time to shame you,” Wali says. Even if she did, though, Wali says most doctors know that humiliating someone into being more healthy doesn’t work. “In real life,” she says, “motivational interviewing is a much more effective strategy for initiating change.”
“If you asked a person, ‘are you ready to quit smoking?’ and they say, ‘No,’ there’s literally nothing you can do,” Wali says. “There’s no point in moving further in that conversation. The only thing you can say is, ‘well, let me know when you’re ready to quit,’ and move on. I can’t change your habits for you. I can only meet you where you’re at.”
Doctor House was right, everyone lies. And they need to stop.
“Don’t hide anything from me, because you’re doing yourself a disservice,” Wali says. “I know you’re probably hiding it because you’re scared, but it’s in your best interest to tell me everything. First of all, remember that appointments are confidential and I won’t judge and it’s okay. Second, the more I know, the better for me, because there might be things I didn’t think of because I didn’t know.”
That applies to drug use too. Wali says that most people don’t recognize that drug addiction is a medical issue and a doctor’s job is to help, not report patients to the authorities. “The only time I break confidentiality,” Wali says, “is if the person is a threat to themselves, a threat to others, or if I suspect domestic violence or child abuse.”