And so it seems especially sad to me that many women, many of them my friends, are so afraid of visits to the gynecologist. A woman’s relationship with her gynecologist is an intimate one, and both parties have to be consenting and comfortable before business can begin. You should, of course, also have a good relationship with your primary care physician, dentist, etc., but let’s face it - it’s easier to ask about a stuffy nose or a sore tooth than it is about that funky discharge in your underwear.
I’ve compiled a few tips to that I think help foster a good relationship with a physician. Please share any other others you have!
I think the best way to find a doctor you like is to ask your friends. Most women are eager to share the good ones and keep their friends away from the bad ones. Like good hairdressers, good gynecologists are treasures that we should appreciate, hold on to, and share with our friends!
To find doctors in your neighborhood and health insurance network, go online. Most insurance companies have a section on their website labeled “find a provider” or “find a physician.” My health insurance company allows me to search by gender and language spoken, as well as specialty, zip code and name. Some websites even list physicians’ medical schools and graduation dates (which can help you figure out their age if that’s important to you).
Even if you don’t have health insurance (that’s a separate post!), it’s critical that you get your yearly well-woman check up! Clinics like Planned Parenthood offer cheap or free care and some providers give discounts to patients who don’t have health insurance. You may also qualify for government or association-sponsored health plans. Check out Women's Health for more information.
Don’t be afraid to switch if you haven’t found someone that’s right for you. It can be a pain to fill out the new patient forms again, but it may take a few tries to find the right fit.
Like any relationship, communication is paramount. I love the fact that I can ask Dr. C those awkward questions, confide in her and know that she’s neither going to judge me nor tell anyone what I’ve told her.
Remember: there are no stupid questions! It can be frustrating when you’ve waited an hour in the waiting room, talked to various nurses and billing specialists and then only get seven minutes with your M.D. Make those seven minutes count and don’t let her blow you off.
For me, a big part of communicating effectively is being prepared for my appointment. Bring a list of questions to with you. Keep track what’s going on with your body, especially if you’ve been sick. Your doctor should ask when you last had your period, if you’ve been experiencing any pain, etc. Know the answers to these questions and ask her all those random things you’ve been wondering about. Ask for clarification if she uses terms you don’t understand.
You may also want to do research before or after you appointment. Websites like Web MD are a good source of information and while they shouldn’t take the place of medical care, they can still be very useful. Being familiar with the topic helps make conversations with your physician that much easier.
You don’t have to schedule an appointment to talk with your doctor. Most offices will allow you to leave a voicemail or even email your physician. If you have questions post-appointment, ask them as soon as possible rather than waiting until the next time you meet.
Above all, remember that it’s your body. Some doctors tell us not to worry or try to brush things off like they’re not a big deal. Maybe they’re not, but don’t let anyone belittle you. What you feel is valid and very real and while it may be hard to understand or may just be something minor, you have a right to know what’s going on.
Don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself or say something if you feel uncomfortable. A nurse should be present when the doctor is performing a pap smear or procedure. Ask the doctor to explain what she’s doing if that puts you at ease. Let her know if you need a break or if you feel too much pain.
There’s been talk in the healthcare industry about provider scorecards and while it hasn’t happened universally, websites like Doctor Scorecard are starting to pop up. Being open about our experiences, both good and bad, will help make the American healthcare industry more transparent and less confusing for everyone.