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1 Question, 5 Answers: What Are Doctors’ Biggest Patient Pet Peeves?

Kelsey Tyler
1 Question, 5 Answers is a column where we ask different types of healthcare pros to weigh in on the same issue.

As patients, we can find plenty of reasons to be disgruntled when it comes to healthcare: Short appointments. High costs. Flimsy gowns. Crowded waiting rooms filled with ancient magazines. But it goes both ways: Healthcare providers have their gripes about patients too. We asked five to explain their top pet peeves about us paper-gown people. Here’s what they had to say. 

Dr. Kristin Yates, DO

Ob-gyn, Garrison Women’s Health Center
Dover, New Hampshire

I wish women would stop apologizing! I have so many patients who apologize for not shaving their legs or their genital area, or for their sexual history.  

I also don’t want women to come in feeling guilty or ashamed for not having an appointment in a few years. I am just happy that she is there with me when she is!

The only reason that I would welcome an apology is if they are running late for their appointment, but that is just good manners. Otherwise, women should know that they never have to say sorry to their gynecologist. We are just there to make them feel comfortable and help them with whatever is troubling them.

Dr. Angela Abernathy, DDS

Restorative and cosmetic dentist
New York City

As a dentist, I am faced with a lot of patients that may feel as though I’m not a “real” doctor, and therefore they may not disclose information, like medical conditions, medications and drug use. 

It is very important that every healthcare professional you visit, even dentists, know your history. Some prescription drugs you’re taking may interfere with or produce adverse reactions to medications we prescribe or use. Some medical conditions may lead us to change how we perform a procedure (especially oral surgery), and illegal drugs can interact with other drugs or lower your pain threshold. Additionally, any allergies to drugs or food need to be disclosed. There was a case not long ago where a young girl died because she had a milk allergy and was using a product purchased from her dentist that has a milk protein as an ingredient. 

Also, X-rays are very important in dentistry, but people often refuse them because they are afraid of radiation. There are things that go on between teeth and around the roots that cannot be seen with the naked eye and may not produce pain. The X-ray systems used now have a lot less radiation. You are exposed to more radiation standing outside; secondhand smoke is also as dangerous. Without proper images to get a full picture of what’s going on, dentists are virtually blind.

Dr. Natasha K. Sriraman, MD, MPH

Associate professor of pediatrics, Eastern Virginia Medical School
Norfolk, Virginia

Dr. Google is the largest problem out there, as well as some of the mommy blogs and private Facebook groups. I often tell parents that I went to school a lot longer than Dr. Google. That usually gets a chuckle, but I think it does help them realize that they shouldn’t be getting health information from the internet. It allows me, as a pediatrician, to open up the discussion about their concerns. Mostly, they are concerned about vaccines. 

The spread of false medical advice on the internet will continue to affect children’s health. Just look at what is happening with the measles outbreak in the United States right now — a disease that had been eradicated!

It is also frustrating to me when parents take their children to the ER or urgent care center instead of calling my office. Unless it is a true, life-threatening emergency, like a seizure or an asthma attack, the majority of issues can be addressed over the phone or we can get you in first thing in the morning. Otherwise, it leads to fragmented care. It’s not always easy to get records from an emergency room or an urgent care center. There’s always someone on call, so parents can call anytime, and there are no stupid questions.

Dr. Ayesha F. Cheema, MD

Primary care doctor with Mercy Personal Physicians
Ellicott City, Maryland

Getting accurate information about patients’ prescription medications is often challenging. It’s important for patients to know what medications they are taking and why they are taking them, and to convey that information accurately to me so I can be aware of any interactions or contraindications.

We tell our new patients ahead of their first appointment to bring the actual bottles of the medications they take, whether they are prescription or over-the-counter or herbal, and 99 percent of the time it doesn’t happen. So patients will come in telling me they take “the purple pill” or “the brown pill” for blood pressure, but that doesn’t help me help them.  Or they may say things like “well, my friend takes X, Y or Z drug, and I want you to put me on that.”

Another common thing is for patients to wait until the last minute to ask for refills. This is especially important for medications where you shouldn’t miss a dose, like those for blood pressure, mood disorders and diabetes. So, a patient might call at 4:30 p.m., when the office is closed, and it may not be possible for us to get the message to the pharmacy until the next day. 

If you have diabetes, for example, and you miss a dose or more of a medication like insulin, you could end up in the ER with very high blood sugar. Sometimes pharmacies will give you a few days of a medication to hold you over, but you shouldn’t rely on that. 

Dr. Inessa Fishman, MD

Facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Aviva Plastic Surgery & Aesthetics

My true pet peeves include disrespect of my time and disrespect of my staff — people who I have personally picked to work with me and who I often see as part of my family. We are all busy, and emergencies and unforeseen circumstances are an inevitable part of life. That said, I am bothered by patients that are repeatedly late or cancel their appointments at the 11th hour; these behaviors can put my entire day into disarray.  

Thankfully, very disruptive patients are rare in my practice. I first have a conversation with a disruptive patient, and make clear my expectations for proper behavior; essentially, I ask the patient treat my staff the way her or she would want to be treated. Most people reassess their standards and choose to maintain an ongoing therapeutic and professional relationship.

For a therapeutic relationship to be effective, there has to be understanding, ongoing communication and respect — no matter whether the encounter is a five-minute Botox touch-up or an hour-long discussion about facial reconstructive options after cancer treatment. 

Responses have been condensed and lightly edited.

Show Comments (1)
  1. Richard W. Wheeler D.D.S. retired

    I waited way too long in my dental practice to allow my employees, particularly ones at the front desk to inform me of abusive behavior by patients and subsequently dismiss these patients from my practice. It empowered my receptionist and following one particular instance when a disgruntled patient realized a sheriff’s deputy was standing next to her we were almost applauding in the back room.

    Insurance companies and attorneys have changed the doctor/patient relationship for the worse. From 1972, following my time in the U.S. Army until 2010, when I retired I realized that the very successful corporate practices were allowing untrained personnel to provide intraoral treatment and dental appliances, crowns, partial and full dentures were being sent overseas where poor quality materials and poorly paid ‘technicians’ were producing products patients anticipated having in their mouths for years.

    I was taught conservative dental treatment to save teeth. Today dental students are being taught to destroy healthy tooth structure for better cosmetic results and replace teeth with expensive implants rather than saving natural teeth.

    More time with preventive educational instruction could save the most teeth.

    I’m just old fashioned but am happy dentists don’t have to use belt driven engines and do their own laboratory work. I still feel gold was the best restorative material ever used.

    Like one astronaut said before launch; “I wish the construction of this rocket had not been given to the lowest bidder.”

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The Paper Gown, a Zocdoc-powered blog, strives to tell stories that help patients feel informed, empowered and understood. Views and opinions expressed on The Paper Gown do not necessarily reflect those of Zocdoc, Inc. Learn more.