10 ways to get the health care you deserve

Every day I am saddened to hear of GP, ENT and audiology appointments where people have come away feeling frustrated, depressed, or even very upset.

There are some truly wonderful, empathetic, helpful doctors out there. But there are also some who let out a long sigh when people with tinnitus walk through the door.

I’ve spoken to doctors about the unsupportive response that members of the tinnitus tribe often seem to experience. They told me that it’s not that they don’t care about us or our condition. It’s because we scare them (it’s not just us – they feel the same about patients with chronic pain, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia too.)

Why do we scare them? Because we go to our doctors wanting them to solve whatever medical conundrum we present to them. But they can’t solve our tinnitus. There is no cure and there’s no pill that they can prescribe or technology they can offer that is guaranteed to get rid of the noise in our head. All their years of learning and their expertise are of little use to them. They desperately want to stop our suffering, and yet they can’t – not in the way we really want. Instead, they can only help us try to manage the symptoms, with anti-depressants, maskers, hearing aids and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Because of this it’s really important that our relationship with our health professionals becomes a collaboration. Rather than approaching them with our hands out for that magic cure, we need to manage our expectations and work together to get the best results from what they can offer us.

How do we do that?

Here are my top 10 tips for getting the most out of your relationship with your doctor:

  1. Be respectful of them, but also have respect for yourself. You may not be a tinnitus expert, but you are the expert on how you feel, physically and mentally.
  2. Book enough time. If it’s the first appointment with your health professional, or you have a lot of issues you want to discuss, book a double appointment.
  3. Go prepared with the results of any scans and other investigations, or at least details of what you have already had and when it took place.
  4. Create a list of all the issues you want to discuss and prioritise them so if time runs out you have covered what is most important to you.
  5. Take a companion who can support you, take notes, and help jog your memory.
  6. Think through your symptoms. When did they start, do they vary when you move your neck or jaw, when are they worse or better etc?
  7. Rehearse what you are going to say. Even the most eloquent of us can become completely inarticulate when feeling emotional, shy, or overwhelmed.
  8. Be honest. If tinnitus makes you cry, depressed, angry, or even suicidal then tell your doctor. If you don’t want to take tablets, tell them.
  9. Say thank you. Most doctors see a long list of patients each day, not all of them pleasant and polite. Recognise the tired human sitting there in front of you and acknowledge that they are trying to help.
  10. Be proactive. Chase any referrals and give any suggested medication or mental health support a try for a reasonable length of time. Make a follow-up appointment to find out the results of any investigations and to discuss what’s next.

And finally, speak out if need be. You are the client. If you feel the doctor has been dismissive or rude or has behaved badly in any way let the organization they work for know about it. You are entitled to be treated with respect.

If you have any additional tips, please let me know. I’d love to share them with the rest of the tinnitus tribe.