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Breaking Up With Your Doctor

Is your doctor-patient relationship on the rocks? Find out if it's time to move on.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Brenda Della Casa had been seeing her primary care physician for two years and had brushed off her concerns about getting rushed care - until she had a health scare she couldn’t ignore. She told her doctor she was experiencing terrible back pain and stomachaches. Her doctor checked her, said she was fine, and sent her on her way.

Five days later, Della Casa, an author and dating coach in Chicago, was traveling and had pains so severe she could barely move. When she received a voicemail from her doctor saying she had “misread her results” and needed to be treated immediately for a kidney infection, she was furious. “I decided then and there I would never see her again,” Della Casa tells WebMD.

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Breaking up with your doctor is not a choice most people take lightly, but there may come a time when it's the single best decision for you and your health. Some patients have had complaints that have been mounting over the years. Others decide to fire their doctor after one heated episode - perhaps because of a missed diagnosis like Della Casa, a disagreeable interaction, or a health concern that was dismissed.

"Patients don’t want to break up with their doctor," says Gregory Makoul, PhD, Chief Academic Officer at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, Conn. "They will often put up with a relationship that isn’t going great for them."

But that may be a mistake.

"It’s critical to remember it’s a relationship," Makoul tells WebMD. "People often think it’s a one-way relationship, but the doctor is invested, too. If you think it’s a business transaction, you’re missing an important part of the picture."

Wait, Can You Hear Me Now?

Ann Middleman, a marketing research consultant in Westbury, N.Y., had been seeing the same ob-gyn for more than eight years. During a routine check-up, she was surprised to learn she had gained 10 pounds. When she asked if her thyroid should be checked, her question was dismissed. Instead, the doctor responded, "You eat too much!"

After the appointment, Middleman wrote a letter to the office explaining that the doctor had been rude and insensitive so she would no longer need her services. "I don’t consider myself too demanding," she says. "I expect somebody to treat me with respect, honesty, and politeness -- someone who talks to me like I'm a human being."

The most common complaint, when these conflicts arise, is that people feel like they’re not being heard or understood, says George Blackall, PsyD, author of Breaking the Cycle: How to Turn Conflict Into Collaboration When You and Your Patients Disagree and professor of pediatrics and humanities at Penn State University College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa.

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