Health Headaches:

Why Do We Avoid Our Doctors?

Lies We Tell Our Doctors

If you’re like most Americans, you care about being healthy. So why do two out of three of us admit that we don’t take care of ourselves as well as we should, even opting not to visit our primary care providers when we feel we should have? In our recent survey of more than 1,000 Americans, we tried to get to the bottom of that question, and here’s what we found.

There are many reasons why we don’t visit our doctors. Chief among those reasons: We’re fearful of getting bad news; we feel rushed during the visit; we’re frustrated over long wait times and appointments that start late; and we feel inconvenienced by the process of making appointments. The good news: Despite these frustrations, we know our health care experiences can be improved.

But avoiding the doctor isn’t the only big problem with this picture. Even when we do make appointments with our primary care providers, we’re not telling the whole truth. Close to half of us reported keeping secrets from our doctors about lifestyle choices that could significantly affect our health. In fact, 60 percent of us who have a primary care provider said that we would consider holding back information depending on the situation. Here’s a closer look at why many of us are neglecting our health—and what we lie about when we do visit our doctors.

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  1. MEG WHITE says:

    One doctor laughed me out of his office, regarding my concerns about my heart. One doctor never answered my questions. One doctor told me I was not “credible” because I brought a book in about the health problems that concerned me, and he apparently thought I was trying to scam Worker’s Comp. Another doctor also got angry with me when I tried to get his help with my neck problems — years later, I figured out that he too thought I was trying to get worker’s comp. A third doctor reacted similarly regarding my knee and worker’s comp. One workers comp doctor tried to force my head to turn in a way that was extremely painful. Yet another WC doctor openly contradicted everything I tried to say, and said he didn’t have my file — he was the one making the judgement. Another doctor was willing to accept my case, but it seemed his main interest was Worker’s comp, rather than my regaining my health. None of the doctors were interested in the value of vitamins, and most thought chiropractors were charlatans — but vitamins, chiropractors, acupuncturists, massage, hot tubs reading up on nutrition and exercise were the things that helped get me through the worst, and I did it on my own. I learned that I couldn’t expect much help from doctors. Although I have gotten some very good help from several very fine doctors. For one thing, I believe the insurance industry has gotten between the doctors and the patients. For another, doctors have not been trained in school about nutrition, exercise, vitamins, “alternative and complimentary” treatments. They seem to be on the defensive at this point. A person who is unwell wants to do whatever it takes to recover. No one likes to be in pain, not to be able to move, not to feel well in their guts or have headaches,brainfog, forgetfulness, repetitive strain injuries, aftereffects of automobile accidents, allergies or unidentified health issues, or not to be able to hold down a job! A person will go wherever they must to get help. It feels really awful to be rejected and abandoned by doctors who don’t understand or feel threatened by the spectre of Worker’s Comp. But a person on the job who has been injured by the repetitive and stressful nature of their job, but doesn’t really understand what is happening, goes to the doctor to get help. So that’s all I am going to say right now. I am finished ranting and raving. After about 12 years, I have managed to get back quite a lot of my health, and am still working on it, and will continue to do so. I have learned a lot. But I still don’t expect doctors to understand my situation or to really come at my situation in a way that really heals me rather than just covering up the problem with pills that make things worse in the long run.

  2. MEG WHITE says:

    Thank you, One Medical Group, for giving me the opportunity to express why I avoid going to doctors. My first response (5/10/12) was hurried and bubbling over with the repressed upset of so many years of struggle. None of my remarks were addressed at anyone at One Medical Group, which has been very helpful indeed. I have been very grateful for Dr. Alex Tan, who gave me much-valued vitamin recommendations (the first time I have ever gotten any carefully-thought-out vitamin recommendations from a doctor!); and the wonderful ability of Skip Siva to cut through confusing insurance paperwork. Actually, I have gone to a lot of doctors over the years, looking for help, and sometimes have obtained pieces to the puzzle of my ill-health. I have been very appreciative for what they have been able to do to help me. In no way do I mean to deprecate the dedication, skill, hard work, creative thought, caring kindness of most of the doctors I have encountered in my lifetime.

    I think the shock came to me when, in complete trust and hope, I went with my problems to a variety of doctors during the 1990s and thereafter, when stressful work caused me a lot of musculo-skeletal-neurological damage. I knew nothing about the Worker’s Comp system, but (in hindsight) the doctors seemed to think I was after something, had ulterior motives (money). I didn’t know what they were getting at, and felt profoundly hurt, offended, rejected, not to mention unable to get any help with my problems! The WC system seems to be adversarial, not in any way supporting the injured worker. I have met many other clerical/office workers who have had the same experience. The WC system amounts to a genuine betrayal of the worker injured on the job.

    The ultimate result is that someone who has come up against WC does not trust doctors any more, does not want to go through all the paperwork, effort, emotional upset, when they would be better off just resting in bed or finding their own way. WC pretty much makes doctors off-limits, and is a very controlling bureaucracy and emotionally traumatic experience. I have turned to and been empowered by other healing approaches such as myofascial therapies, physical therapy, exercise in a heated pool, deep-tissue massage, acupuncture, chiropractic treatments, electro-magnetic TENS treatments, reading up on vitamins/exercise/diet, learning more about the healing value of various foods, changing one habit after another, keeping a health journal, and so forth. I found that it helped me greatly to get away from and not eat with other people, stay in my own narrow bubble so I could focus on and pay attention to what my body can tell me, and build my daily life around what my body seems to need at the moment. Although this takes a long time, this way leads to healing.

    Gradually I can venture out further, reach out and help a friend with a similar problem. Gradually, with increased focus and clarity, greater strength, I can go to one doctor or another with a specific question or request instead of a vague long list of complaints. I am doing for myself whatever I can. Like a wounded animal, I am curling up, away from the action, to lick my wounds. When I feel better, I come out to interact for a while, and then return to my nest to recover from these encounters and energy expenditures.

    I have a lot of self-health books by my bed. At one point, large doses of Alpha-Lipoic Acid and an arthritis self-help group helped me get out of my bed. Dr. Prieto, an orthopedic surgeon, was very understanding, and referred me to physical therapy at St. Francis Hospital, where they gave me exercises to do in bed. Over time I was able to walk again (slowly and painfully), able to take a plane cross-country to my niece’s wedding! Then a friend told me about CPMC pool therapy; my chiropractor (Dr, Lloyd Latch, who pulled me through the worst of everything!) filled out the forms and got me into the program, where I have been ever since (5 years or more). It was the first form of exercise I could do without having prohibitive relapses. Now I am the most energetic person in the class, almost feeling guilty for taking space someone else could use. With increased movement, I was able to reduce pain, brain-fog and weight, which put less strain on my heart and joints, which in turn made it easier to move more with less pain. In this last year, I have been able to put energy into cleaning up my living space, making it more healthy to live in, getting rid of pests. I drink more water, eat more fish ,vegetables and tea, cut way back on animal fats, red meat and sugar. I went off all gluten, which relieved a lot of vague symptoms and helped my energy level. I consulted with Dr. Marian Chin to check on my heart, as I was having a lot of chest pains. She put me on a few medications, and the pain subsided, and my energy improved. At a certain point after a very serious month of fever and immobility, I was able to get myself to my current primary care doctor, Dr Kenneth Chang, who took one look at me and suspected Rheumatoid Arthritis. He sent me to Dr. Roger Wang, who put me on various medications (which I was quite afraid of, but Dr. Tam encouraged me to go ahead with). Immediately I had more energy and less pain, and did not seem to need to sleep most of the time anymore.

    This is pretty much where I am now. So you see, I have gotten a lot of good help from doctors. This is the “short” version of my story. I have learned that I must focus on improving my health as my top priority, and that changes are incremental, one little habit at a time. And that at different phases of recovery, one needs to use different approaches — one’s body is continually reacting and changing, and one must be persistent. I am learning how to take better care of myself.

    I have seen many doctors, but I have had to learn not to expect miracles, not to expect them to do my work for me, not to expect them to have all the answers, not to let them take over my life, not to expect a pill to fix me. The hard work is what I have to do for myself — life-style changes, attitude changes, learning more and more. At this point, I am living on home-made soups, fresh steamed veggies, rice, tea, fruit, gluten-free bread. I back-slide a lot, but always find that too much food, too much sugar or animal fats, and not enough stretching or water make me feel much worse. So as time goes by, I am more an more motivated in my newer habits, and find more pleasure in them. Doctors cannot be my first line of defense. As a counselor once said, I must learn to be a good mother to myself.

    Probably I have not answered the question as you wanted me to do. That is because I don’t accept your premise. I have not lied to my doctors. If anything, I may have told them too much, may have tried too hard to communicate. I have learned to avoid them because I could not get what I needed, at the times when I needed them the most. Maybe that was not their fault. Maybe my expectations were unrealistic. Maybe I did not communicate as well as I should have, or did not understand them as well as they needed, or was too self-absorbed. Maybe Worker’s Comp got in the way. But at this point, I think I have better relations with my doctors, pay more attention to their needs, take on more responsibility for my own health, and am getting better results.

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