A healthy relationship is built on trust and respect. It’s the golden rule for any type of relationship—romantic partners, friendships, family members, etc. But let’s not forget: You also have a relationship with your doctor, and according to researcher and medical decision-making expert Talya Miron-Shatz, Ph.D., it requires just as much work to nurture the partnership.
“When you’re choosing a doctor, it’s important to feel connected to this person—you’re going to get better treatment and better health outcomes,” she says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. But just like any other relationship, there are some common red flags to watch out for. If you notice any of the below patterns at the doctor’s office—well, it might be time to break up:
1. They do not make eye contact or say hello.
Says Miron-Shatz, the doctor-patient relationship should be just that—a relationship with mutual respect. So if a doctor doesn’t look you in the eye and say hello before jumping right into business? That’s a glaring red flag.
See, when a doctor takes the time to look at you and ask you how you’re doing, it shows that they are really listening to you and viewing you as a person—rather than the next patient on their rotation. “There’s someone who cares about you, who is there for you,” Miron-Shatz adds.
“[You want] someone who looks you in the eye and says, ‘Hi, what can I do for you today?'” she continues. “It takes very little time. It could take five seconds, and it makes a huge difference.” The timing is an important point: Many doctors, generally, are strapped for time. “Your first inclination might be to say, ‘I care about patients, but I don’t have the time,'” Miron-Shatz says regarding health care professionals. “Well, you do have the time. If it’s five seconds, you do have the time.”
Of course, a doctor might not necessarily have time to have a several-minute conversation about how your day is going. “But if there are things that are crucial for you to convey, say them. And if the doctor’s not listening, that’s not great,” says Miron-Shatz.
2. They tell you “It’s in your head.”
It’s a scenario that often occurs with women in a health care setting: You complain about a slew of symptoms, and the doctor tells you the issue has psychological roots or maybe you’re just stressed. “If you’re a woman and you’re complaining about something, you’re probably hysterical, maybe it’s psychological, maybe it’s in your mind. We encounter a lot of this implicit bias,” says Miron-Shatz.
If you’re feeling dismissed, she recommends asking one simple question: Could there be another medical explanation? “So it’s a medical explanation. It’s not the same as telling me it’s all in my head—thank you very much—it’s actual, medical, evidence-based information.” And if they continue to brush off your concerns—well, it might be time to find a new doctor.
3. They shut down alternatives.
According to Miron-Shatz, people are often scared to ask their doctor about second opinions or alternatives in fear of potentially disrespecting their expertise. However, asking about alternative options and/or treatments does not mean that you don’t trust your doctor. “It just means you’re being educated, informed, and empowered,” says Miron-Shatz.
It all goes back to the doctor-patient relationship: “When someone says something that doesn’t resonate with you, are you in a place where you can say, ‘You know, Doctor, I hear you, but I’m not sure because it’s not taking into account the fact that I also have headaches, or that this happens more on days when I eat corn, or whatever things might be happening,'” she adds.
Essentially, you should be having a conversation with your doctor, not a lecture. And if they shut down any possible alternative answer, that might not be a good sign. “It’s legitimate for us to voice our concerns, taking into account the doctor’s [time] constraints,” says Miron-Shatz. “We have to be very concise, but we deserve answers.”
Your relationship with your doctor should leave you feeling safe and supported, not dismissed or inferior. If you encounter any (or all) of the patterns above, it’s important to speak up. “You have vital information about your symptoms, about how you feel, about what you’ve been doing,” says Miron-Shatz. “And someone should listen to you.”