How to be a “good” patient


by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

Here’s how to be a “GOOD PATIENT”:

  • Get sick (preferably with a short-term acute ailment).
  • Get an appointment to see your doctor.
  • Get diagnosed.
  • Get a prescription.
  • Get better.
  • Thank your brilliant doctor.

Now, here’s how to be a “DIFFICULT PATIENT”:         .          .    

  • Contract a chronic, progressive illness.
  • Go see your doctor.
  • Get diagnosed.
  • Take your meds.
  • Get diagnosed with something different. Many times.
  • Take your new meds.
  • Keep going back, because symptoms keep getting worse.
  • Get more tests.
  • Take different meds.
  • Get referrals to specialists. Many times.
  • Get more tests, more meds and more invasive medical procedures.
  • Keep going back.

You get the picture . . .


© 2011 Carolyn Thomas

NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote much more about how to be a “good” patient in Chapter 8 of my book, A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease . You can ask for it at your local bookshop, or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher, Johns Hopkins University Press (use the JHUP code HTWN to save 30% off the list price when you order).

See also:

The Loss of ‘Self’ in Chronic Illness is What Really Hurts

When You Fear Being Labelled a “Difficult” Patient

The New Country Called Heart Disease

It Wasn’t Heart Disease – But What Was It?

The Heart Patient’s Chronic Lament: “Excuse Me. I’m Sorry. I Don’t Mean to Be a Bother…”

What Doctors Really Think About Women Who Are ‘Medical Googlers’

Women’s Cardiac Care: is it Gender Difference – or Gender Bias?

Heart Attack Misdiagnosis in Women

Oscillating Narrative: the Learned Art of Re-creating Ourselves


16 thoughts on “How to be a “good” patient

  1. Pingback: Suddenly Susan
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  3. I was a good, adherent patient and my primary care doctor was a good physician until I was diagnosed with a heart problem. Now, the saying “Question authority” seems to be my modus operandi (and I have a new PCP).


    1. Campykid, thanks for using the word ‘adherent’ here instead of the word doctors use most often: “compliant”.


    1. Thanks Dr. Charles for reminding us of the late Dr. Starfield’s important work. Interesting, though, that she reported in 2009 that her landmark 2000 study on health care in America published in the Journal of the American Medical Association was “rejected by the first journal that I sent it to, on the grounds that ‘it would not be interesting to readers’!”


  4. I was never a difficult patient until I had a heart attack and the ER doctor told me, “it is probably just a pulled muscle”. I wanted to pull his muscle. I told him to call my heart doctor “NOW” and if he didn’t, I wouldn’t be responsible for my actions. Hmmm, seems I had a heart attack. The ER doctor never came back in my room until I demanded he do so, and then I told him just exactly what I thought of him and how he handles women with chest pain. I can only hope he took it to ‘heart’ and didn’t say that crap to someone else until he knew for sure what was going on. Now when he sees me in the ER he treats me totally different. I guess I made a good impression on him.


    1. Well, Sandy, either you “made a good impression on him” – or else he just wrote you off as a raving lunatic who needs to be treated differently. Let’s hope it was the former!


  5. Oh how I would love to be a “good” patient!

    I really like the sound of the second to last line.. Get better. If only it were so easy. I’ll keep dreaming…


    1. Hi Jamie – I was a very good patient when I had a ruptured appendix/peritonitis years ago. Or when I had knee surgery. Or when I popped out two babies the old-fashioned way.

      Alas, I am not so “good” as a heart patient with ongoing cardiac issues… 😉



      1. hahaha! Yeah, I guess I used to be a “good” patient before pericarditis. Heck, my doctors barely even saw me back then. As it turns out, I am a terrible heart patient. At least we’re not alone…


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