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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.

Wait, Can You Hear Me Now? continued...

Keep in mind that this is a partnership, Blackall says, where both parties bring expertise to the table. The physician brings medical expertise and the patients bring the expertise of knowing their body and preferences for treatment and care.

"The core assumption is that both parties are trying really hard to help the person get better," Blackall says. "There are times in a doctor-patient relationship where there are going to be outright disagreements. It's actually quite common."

So when is it time to fire your doctor? "If you feel in your heart that you’ve given your best effort to build a partnership with your physician and it hasn't happened, then it's time to move on," Blackall says. "If a person decides that it’s time to move on, it should be a conscious choice, not one made out of haste or anger."

When Your Styles Don’t Mesh

When Crystal Brown-Tatum, a public relations firm owner in Shreveport, La., was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, she sought out a female oncologist. She says she initially found her doctor “pleasant and caring." But as her treatment progressed, Brown-Tatum found her doctor to be too clinical, less compassionate, and desensitized to her needs.

"I began to dread going to see her," Brown-Tatum tells WebMD by email. So she decided to find another oncologist. The final straw was a scheduling mistake. Brown-Tatum used that as the reason for switching practices, because she didn’t want to hurt the doctor’s feelings.

“I have no anger toward the doctor,” Brown-Tatum writes. “Her treatment style became more of a personality conflict. At the end of the day, the patient must feel 100% comfortable and confident with her doctor.”

Cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong switched oncologists because he wasn't comfortable with the language the first doctor used to describe his treatment ("I'm going to hit you with chemo... kill you and then bring you back to life."), Gary M. Reisfield, MD, and George R. Wilson III, MD, of the University of Florida Health Science Center wrote in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2004. Armstrong found another oncologist whose approach better suited him.

"There are times when it's just not a good chemistry between people," Blackall says. "You don't hit it off. That's not because they're a bad doctor or you're a difficult patient. It's because your styles are so different you're just not compatible."


Partnering With Your Doctor

Medical training and accreditation programs have added communication skills training courses, so the emphasis on communicating with patients today has come a long way from the traditional "doctor knows best" model.

"We’re not talking about an 'either-or,'" Makoul says. "A patient wouldn't want a great communicator over somebody who is excellent technically and clinically. The point is to be excellent across the board; patients are looking for the whole package."

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