One of my least favorite things to do is to go to a new doctor. I have been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis for almost 20 years, and trying to condense 20 years of medical history can be challenging. Things that may have seemed trivial to your other doctor may be important to the new one. So no matter what the reason is for changing doctors -- whether it’s because you moved, change in insurance, your doctor retired, or you want to get a second opinion -- it’s important to go into your new doctor appointment with an open mind.
I have been extremely fortunate. Most of the doctors that I have had on my almost 20-year AS journey are still treating me. I call them my “medical team.” For the most part I feel my team has done a great job of treating me. So when I had some GI issues start, I was confident that my team could figure it out. Fast forward a few years and I hear the words you never want to hear as a patient: “I’ve run out of ideas.” My GI doctor had done everything that he knew to do.
What now? I talked with my rheumatologist and got a recommendation for a new GI doctor from her. Of all my doctors, she acts like a “general contractor.” She helps me coordinate with them and keeps them apprised of any changes in my condition. I felt it was important to find a doctor she was comfortable working with, one that she trusted. Plus knowing that she trusted my new doctor made me trust the new doctor.
Now that you have a new doctor, how much do you share? Do you need to tell them every little thing has been wrong? Do you just hit the highlights? I know it feels like I am “whining” when I am going over my medical history with someone new. That feeling is even worse when I’m talking about what hurts currently. Maybe that’s just me trying to be a “tough” guy. I can’t expect my new doctor to solve something my old doctor couldn’t with less information. It’s important to share all those details. You never know what is going to be important to the new doctor.
Another important thing to manage is expectations. While it is possible your new doctor will look at your medical history and know exactly what is going on, that is not a realistic expectation. I have to remind myself why I’m seeing this new doctor. If my case was easy, I wouldn’t have needed to change doctors! Managing expectations helps me manage my mental health.
Speaking of managing expectations: Your new doctor can play an important part in that, too. One of the things I love about my doctors is they speak honestly to me. They don’t sugar coat things. When my new doctor ordered some tests, he explained to me that they would probably come back normal, but it was the first step. Honesty both ways can help with managing expectations.
Breaking in a new doctor is never fun but will probably happen if you have health issues for any period of time. Just remember to be honest with the new doctor. Let them know your expectations beforehand. It will make the transition easier for everyone.
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