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So many thyroid patients struggle to build a good relationship with a good doctor.
As I’ve talked about before, it can be tricky to find a doctor who will test more than TSH (which isn’t accurate when used alone), consider other thyroid medication options than standard T4-only and fully listen to our concerns without playing them off as something else or even implying that they’re in our head.
It’s understandable therefore, that many of us can feel anxious and worried about medical appointments and struggle to come across as assertive when we need to. A subscriber to my newsletter sent me an email asking me to give tips on how to have a sensible discussion with your doctor, so here they are.
Remember, to make the most progress in your health, you should be an active participant in your own healthcare and treatment. After all, you are your own thyroid advocate. Embrace this by learning how to get the most out of your appointment.
The number one rule I always give patients going to see their GP, Endocrinologist or other medical professional is to write everything you want to discuss down, ahead of the day.
Have an initial brainstorming session of listing all the symptoms you want to bring up, tests you want to ask for and any other queries or questions and then keep it handy so you can add anything else that may come to mind to it, so you don’t leave the appointment annoyed that you’d forgotten to ask something very key to your health and worries.
It may be easier to keep the list on your phone so it’s always with you and you can add to it easily. You may also want to leave some space so you can write the answer or any notes in so you don’t forget what was said after the appointment is over.
At the appointment, simply start by telling the doctor that you’ve written some things down and ask them to let you finish before giving their input, so you don’t get cut off before you’ve brought everything up that you wish to.
Refer back to it often throughout the appointment and ensure you’re happy that all have been addressed. If it’s quite a long list, consider booking a double appointment slot as doctors can be rushed for time and you’ll both benefit from having an adequate time slot to discuss all points.
It may also help to have some photos ready depicting any particular symptoms or bad days with your health. When my acne was getting progressively worse, I took daily photos to show just how quickly it was developing and these helped my doctor to understand the extent of my issues and worries better.
If I’ve recently had any blood tests done, I also like to ask the receptionist to print me out a copy ahead of the appointment so that I have them in front of me when the doctor discusses them (and also to keep in my own file back home).
Having test results printed can also help you to pick up on anything the doctor may have missed, such as a ‘borderline‘ or low in range result that the doctor would otherwise say is OK, but you want to raise in the appointment. Low in range or borderline results are notorious for still leaving thyroid patients feeling unwell. A lot of us feel better when treatment moves results much further in to range.
Consider whether taking someone else along to your appointment for support will help.
After getting fed up with feeling like no one was taking me seriously, I started taking my longterm partner along to appointments and I suddenly started getting places quicker. Although it definitely shouldn’t take someone else backing you up in order to be listened to, many doctors will see it as validation to what you’re saying. If you can take someone who lives with you then even better, as they can explain how they see hypothyroidism affect you each and every day.
If you’re wanting to try another thyroid medication, for example synthetic T3 or NDT which work better than standard T4 medication for many people, or if you’re wanting further testing done, you’ll benefit from doing some research ahead of the day and taking it along with you to backup your requests.
You’ll find studies and evidence regarding the importance of full thyroid panel testing and the effectiveness of other medications for example, all over the internet but also on websites such as this one (I often list them at the end of my blog posts). So print them out, make notes on them, highlight important parts and take it along with you so you’re prepared to fight your corner if needed.
Body Language and Presentation
Keep in mind how your body language can help or hinder how assertive you are at your appointment. Breathe calmly and try not to get angry or frustrated. Remain mature and open for discussion and the doctor is more likely to take you and your concerns seriously. Talk directly at them, looking them in the eye in you can, ensuring that your confidence in being your own healthcare advocate is demonstrated.
Consider Unexpected Outcomes
No one likes to think that after so much preparation and anxiety, a medical appointment might not go to plan. Take it from someone who had done months of research and calmly asked for a full thyroid panel to be tested and to try a different thyroid medication, and got shot down very patronisingly by a doctor who was not at all happy with my questions.
He even told me to stop reading things on the ‘world wide web’. I left that appointment in a complete state and refused to see that particular GP at my surgery again. I somehow hadn’t considered that they would refuse my suggestions and so I was totally unprepared and shocked.
Prepare yourself for various outcomes and how you would react so as not to be caught off guard, and remain realistic. Many doctors, especially in mainstream medicine, apply a ‘one size fits all‘ approach to treating thyroid patients and refuse to acknowledge that so many of us are still unwell on standard medication therapy.
Underscoring all of this, please do remember that if you don’t get on with your doctor or aren’t happy with the treatment you receive, that you’re entitled to see a different one. After all, no one knows your body as well as you do.
Do you have any tips to add?
More information on this topic can be found in the book You, Me and Hypothyroidism: When Someone You Love Has Hypothyroidism.
You can click on the hyperlinks in the above post to learn more and see references to information given.
Rachel Hill is the highly ranked and multi-award winning thyroid patient advocate, writer, speaker and author behind The Invisible Hypothyroidism. Her thyroid advocacy work includes writing articles, authoring books, producing her Thyroid Family email newsletters and speaking on podcasts, as well as being a founding board member for the American College of Thyroidology. She is well-recognised as a crucial contributor to the thyroid community and has a large social media presence. Her books include “Be Your Own Thyroid Advocate” and “You, Me and Hypothyroidism”.