Saturday, November 13, 2021

Are You A 'Difficult Patient'?

*Have to walk with crutches - 2003
I had a patient call me yesterday asking if he could see me in our clinic as he had been called a 'difficult patient' by the last health professional he saw. I explained that I was still on medical leave after my cycling accident, and he could perhaps see my colleagues in our clinic. However, I would be happy to answer his queries if needed.

Picture from
Of course I then asked why he was called a 'difficult patient' and his reply was "because I ask too many questions". My immediate thoughts were how can any healthcare professional tell patients that they are 'difficult patients'  when they are just asking questions about their own health?

Actually, I'm probably a very 'difficult patient' too. Make that the worst 'difficult patient'. I've been a patient before while still racing/ competing triathlons with three knee operations. Following that a skull and spine compression fracture and now another another spine compression fracture just ten weeks ago. 

Aized will tell you that during ALL of my doctor's appointments, I'm always in the doctor's clinic asking the poor guy lots of questions. "Ok Dr A, B or C, the the million dollar questions are; when can I cycle, run, carry my child, lift weights or go back to work?" These were questions that were very important to me. Still are now. Even though as a physiotherapist I should know most if not all the answers myself.

Borrowing the words of Aized's wise friend, "Healing isn't a bed of roses, it isn't a fluffy fairytale. It is tiring, gruesome and painful". I can definitely vouch for that.

Most times, it's just that patients want confirmation of what they have researched on the internet. Most of us have all done this at some point or other. Of course we need to bear in mind that answers off the internet may not necessary be medically sound advice or correct diagnoses. 

For me, personally, patients who ask a lot of questions are actually good, but wanting me (or another healthcare professional) to tell them what they want to hear may not always happen.

Back to my patient. I asked that patient what his questions were.  His reply was "I'm so glad you asked, I have quite a few on my list!"

That is also why I usually end my time with each patient by asking, "Any questions so far?", "Which questions have we not answered today?" or, "Is there anything we should have talked about that we have not?"

In our clinics, I actually give out my personal mobile phone number, in case patients have questions any time after their appointment. Why? Because I do expect questions from patients. Or they can message or email me if they think of some after their treatment session.

*The picture above was taken on 16th July 2003 after my 3rd knee operation in Adelaide, South Australia, where I was studying for my Masters in Musculoskeletal and Sports Physiotherapy. The surgeon said I had to be non weight-bearing on my R leg for 6 weeks after the operation. However, he said cycling was fine since the articular cartilage he repaired would benefit from exercise that stimulated the repaired area without weight bearing forces. 

So I taped the crutch to my bike, cycled to university and walked around with crutches. Aized thinks I'm a DIFFICULT patient ;)

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