Do You Suffer From White Coat Syndrome?
By Nurse Kimberly
When I was a little girl I thought doctors were the most incredible people ever. Really, I mean didn’t you? When I would be sick I would go for a visit to my doctor’s office. Within a short time after the visit I would begin to feel better. It was like magic. But unlike magic there was never a magic wand, a white bunny jumping out of a hat, or even a fancy black cape. So why was I always speechless like I had just seen a fantastic trick? What is it about a doctor’s white coat that makes us forget everything we wanted to ask or say?
Now that I am all grown up, I work with doctors everyday. The doctors I work with use their knowledge from years of studying medicine to help heal people. They are real “people” who have been trained to help other real “people” who are sick. Just like a veterinarian helps dogs, an electrician rewires a home, a mechanic fixes a car; doctors are trained to help people get better. They are invaluable to our health and well being. But they are still “people” like you and me. Once you realize that your doctor or your child’s doctor is a person just like you, it will be easier to escape “white coat syndrome”.
White coast syndrome is very common among the patients I take care of and their family members. In fact, even though I am a nurse I still suffer from it every now and then. You would know if you have ever suffered from white coat syndrome. Some of the symptoms are forgetting the questions you wanted to ask, feeling afraid to take more time to have all of your questions answered, not asking questions our of fear of insulting, not asking a question because you fear it may be silly, and the worst is accepting everything they say without question.
If any of those things have ever happened to you it is imperative that you listen up and take notes. Forgetting to ask a question or mention a symptom while at your doctors appointment can lead to a misdiagnosis, delayed treatment, and worsening of a current health problem. The good thing is you can rid yourself of white coat syndrome forever!
The steps to freeing you and your family from this ridiculous syndrome start with the scheduling of your doctors appointment. You are now in “preparation mode”. When you call to set up your appointment insist that you see a doctor. Nurse practitioners (NP) and physician assistants (PA) are undeniable assets for a doctors office. They help with overload and make sure patients are seen. Many doctors appointments get overbooked and they help with that burden. However, if you are told that the only available appointment is with your doctor’s nurse practitioner or physician assistant, make it clear that you would like your physician to review everything while you are there. In my clinical experience and personal experience I have observed many “mistakes” when the doctor was not involved. Remember it is your right to dictate who you want overseeing your care.
After your appointment is scheduled grab a piece of paper and a pen. Start writing down your symptoms beginning with the date they first presented. Be descriptive when doing this. The more detailed you are the easier it will be for your doctor to help you. If your appointment is a week out, continue to record your symptoms. Never discount something as unimportant. For example, you may think you have a sinus infection because of your symptoms. If you also are experiencing back pain or abdominal pain write it down. You can never provide too much information.
In addition to keeping an ongoing journal of your symptoms, start a list of questions. Countless times I have patients and their family members listen to the doctor as he or she explains a medical condition or the treatment for a condition. As they listen to the doctor they shake their heads up and down suggesting understanding of what the doctor is saying. Moments after the doctor leaves the room they have deluge of questions! If appropriate I answer what I can. Quite often though many of the questions are outside my scope of practice. Even though I observe this happen in the clinical setting, and know better, I have had the same thing happen to me in the past. Driving home from one of my appointments I will think of at least 5 things I didn’t ask. Because of this I make sure I am always prepared!
Making a list of questions prior to the appointment will prevent unanswered questions or forgetting what you want to ask. Remember in school when your teacher would say “the only stupid question is the one you don’t ask”? The same goes with your appointment. Your health, your time, and your questions are important and you should not settle for anything less than a doctor who understands this. If you do not feel that your health, symptoms, or concerns are being taken seriously find someone else. There are a countless number of doctors out there accepting new patients. Do some research and read reviews about different doctors before you decide. It might take three or more tries before you find someone you like but the hassle is worth it.
The last part of preparation for your visit to alleviate the suffering of white coat syndrome is knowing your history. Keep a copy of all of your medical records. Lab results, doctors progress notes, procedure notes, and a history of all your past medications will offer your doctor a complete picture of your health. If you don’t know when you suffered from something in the past or forget what medications you are currently taking it can fluster you when trying to answer the doctor’s questions. If you don’t have any of your records they are easy to obtain. Simply contact your previous or current doctors office and request a “complete” copy of your medical record. Because of HIPPA you will need to fill our a signed request of permission to release the records. But that is usually the extent of it.
Take your health and your families health seriously. Follow these tips to make sure you and your family are getting the best care. And always remember doctors are “people” just like me and you. They are trained professionals who help out when your sick. Next time you are feeling under the weather bring your list of symptoms and questions. Make your voice and concerns heard. If you do these things I guarantee you will no longer be a victim of white coat syndrome!
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