National Breast Cancer Coalition

Being Valued

Doctors usually care deeply about their work and their patients. But our health care system does not train doctors well to talk and listen to their patients. And it does not reward them for respecting their patients.

You will probably be treated differently by different caregivers. Some will be as helpful as they can. Others may not care that you wait two hours in the doctor's office. Some doctors and nurses will do all they can to make sure you understand your treatment choices. They may even give you phone numbers where you can call them after hours. Others will expect you to do what they tell you without question.

You may have special needs that your doctors and nurses don't understand. And we all have our own set of values and preferences. Your doctors and nurses should respect your values and preferences.

There are things you can do to get the respect you deserve.

What You Can Do:

To get respect, give respect.

You and your doctors need to work together. You both have information to share. That means you both have to give honest and complete information so you can get the best care. For example, if you are taking alternative medicines or other therapies but don't tell your doctors, they could advise the wrong care.

Ask a family member, friend, or breast cancer advocate to come with you to the doctor. This tells your doctor that you want to learn about your breast cancer. With someone at your side, you'll ask better questions. You'll remember more. And you'll become a respectful partner with your doctors.

Meet as people rather than as a doctor and a patient.

No one should ever expect you to have an important talk about your health when you're not fully clothed. It will probably be more comfortable to first meet your doctor in his or her office with your clothes on. And if you do need to undress for something, ask for comfortable robes that cover you.

Take your time seriously.

Time can be a real problem for patients. Our health care system wastes patients' time and often doesn't give them enough time with their caregivers. Doctors and nurses need to hear loudly that valuing their time over yours is unfair and stressful. You can:

  • Ask the doctor to call you later in the day to finish talking if you run out of time during the appointment.
  • Ask your doctors and nurses how best to reach them. Can you call them during certain hours? Can you use e-mail? Should you call the doctor or nurse first? Also ask when they normally return calls. You can worry all day waiting for a call. But many doctors have a set time when they return calls. Talking about this helps both of you respect each other's time.
  • Let your health plan know when they are making things hard for you. For example, your doctor's office may send you to an outside lab to have blood drawn. They may do this to save time and see more patients. But it may waste your time.
  • Ask your doctors if you can help solve the problem somehow. For example, some health plans pressure doctors to see 40 patients in one day and return phone calls. It may help to tell your health plan if this pressure affects you as a patient.

Complain when you need to.

If someone is really disrespectful, do us all a favor and let someone know. You may complain to your health plan and/or change doctors. To complain, call the customer service department of your health plan. (The number should be in a booklet you got from your health plan.) Ask how to file a complaint. One complaint may not make a big difference. But if you complain, and other patients do too, things may change.