Doctors Should Listen When You Say ‘No’

Who wants to get the hard sell at the doctor’s office? Not me.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to blog about this—heck, I’m still not so sure I want to. But I have this feeling that many of you have been in the same boat, so I think it could be worthwhile to get this out on the Interwebz.

I had a doctor’s appointment recently. It was my yearly checkup just to make sure all systems are a go. I picked this particular doctor off of my insurance company’s website, pretty much at random. See, I was in desperate need of getting a few prescriptions refilled, so I wasn’t really in any position to vet my choice, cross-referencing names with Yelp reviews and Philly Mag’s Top Doctors list as I usually would. I basically called down the list of insurance-approved doctors until I found one nearby who could see me within a reasonable timeframe. (Side note: How annoying is it to call a doctor only to find out they don’t have any available appointments for the next three months? How is that useful to anyone?)

About 10 names in, I found a doctor who could see me in two weeks. Great. I’ll take it. I have to say, I was a little suspicious that she had so much availability, but I was in no place to be picky.

So I showed up for my appointment. The good news is, this doctor uses an online system through which you can fill out most of your paperwork before you get there. I had to fill out just two short forms while I sat in the waiting room, which is about 20 forms less than these things usually require.

One of them, though, asked if I wanted to undergo a few tests—tests, it said, that wouldn’t be covered by my insurance and for which I would need to pay out of pocket. These tests, it continued, are recommended for everyone, but are completely optional. I read about them, weighed my options and decided that since I’m 28 and in perfectly good health, I could skip them. In fact, at previous doctor’s appointments I’d also skipped these tests. Those doctors never seemed to mind.

So anyway, I went back to the exam room and when the doctor came in, she started to go through the paperwork I’d filled out. When she saw that I’d checked the “no” box regarding the tests, she said, “Oh, I see you’ve opted out of the tests. I really recommend them to everyone I see. Of course, your insurance won’t cover them, but I still recommend them.”

“No, thank you,” I replied cheerfully, in much the same manner as I’ve said those same words to all the other doctors I’ve seen over the past few years.

“No, but really, I recommend them,” she pressed. She turned around then and was standing with her face awkwardly close to mine. Then we were both quiet for a beat. I was waiting for her to explain why she recommends that everyone and their mother get these tests, but her reasons never came. So finally I broke the silence.

“No, thank you,” I said again, this time without the cheerful ring to my voice. I wanted her to get it. To leave me alone.

She was quiet as if pondering whether or not she should say what she was thinking. And then she did: “I’m sorry, but can I ask why?”

I was flabbergasted. I think I actually blinked a few times. I felt my cheeks go red. Every other doctor I’d ever seen who presented me with the option of undergoing these tests dropped it when I said no—the first time. This lady wouldn’t let up.

So I bumbled through my list of reasons while she stared at me. In retrospect, I wish I would have told her it was none of her business and that my answer was still no, but you never think to say these things in the heat of the moment.

When I finished, she sort of smirked as if to say, “Fine. To your funeral,” before continuing with the exam. The next 15 minutes were icy, at best, as if I’d personally offended her by opting out of the tests. It sort of made me wonder if she gets some sort of kickback or something for every not-covered-by-insurance test she’s able to sell. It felt sleazy. I was happy when I finally got out of there.

Luckily, I was able to get the prescriptions I needed refilled (mission: accomplished), but I think it goes without saying that I’ll be finding a new doctor next year. I mean, who wants to sit through a sales pitch at a doctor’s office? Certainly not me.

Have you ever had a doctor who just wouldn’t listen? How’d you handle the situation? Share in the comments.

  • maureen

    I laughed when I read this. You are 28. Wait until you are 50+. My experience is that you are not even heard anymore.
    Along with the pats on the head come the meds, and the guilt trip for refusing to start down that path. The parameters for Diabetes and Hypertension are so tight that I am sure everyone will be prescribed something once they hit 50.
    I felt like I was going into battle every time I had to make an appointment. I finally scheduled with a partner in the practice to avoid the argument. From her I got “I guess you just don’t believe in preventative medicine?” Since when is ‘preventative medicine’ equivalent to drug therapy? Example:
    “I want you to start taking this cholesterol medicine.”
    “Why? My cholesterol level is well below 200 (134!).”
    “Because it helps your heart.”
    “But there is nothing wrong with my heart!”

    My grandmother is still alive at 96. My great grandmother lived to be 100. Somehow they managed to live drug free. So will I.

  • linda

    I have been a nurse for over 25 years. Worked with a lot of physicians. I usually respect Philly’s Top Doc list. This year there is one doc who does not deserve to make your list. Every person I know who saw that this doc made the list just laughed. This is the 2nd worse doc I ever met. You really should allow patients to rank the doctors. If patients voted, believe me this doc would never have made the list.

  • Alex Novak

    Fortunately, I have generally wonderful doctors, including several specialists and a general practicioner. However, there is one specialty that I have now seen four different doctors and they all come across as inhumane and uncaring for my needs. That specialty is urology. It seems that Arrogance and Brusqueness are special requirements for that specific profession. The very few that have a reputation for excellence and humanity (reportedly) are jammed with patients and aren’t taking new ones.

    I am facing life-changing surgery and I expect more than a five minute conversation before I am literally hustled out of the office.

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