You Wanted To Know: When That Person You Love Won’t See the Doctor

couple doing bills concerned conversation

On a periodic basis, I have patients come to my office who obviously don’t want to be there. Often a concerned spouse or loved one has dragged them there in spite of protestations of good health or a problem that will probably go away on its own. As a man, I can attest to the fact that men are the worst about this. Study after study has shown that men underuse health care and often downplay their conditions. I’m guessing this is where Karen’s question to me on Twitter came from:

Concerned family

What I like about this question is the obvious frustration motivating it. Sometimes it can feel like no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to get through to that person that they need to see a medical professional. At times, you might even feel like you care more about their health than they do. Let me address that first and then I’ll get to some of the most common reasons I hear.

The key to figuring out these sorts of problems is trying to get to the bottom of what’s keeping someone from seeing the doctor. When one of my patients starts missing appointments, my instinct is to tell them over and over how important it is to keep come to their visits and how concerned I am about their health. The problem is, they may have their own reasons about why they’re missing appointments that are completely different than why I think they’re missing them.

While we nag out of love and to feel like we’re at least doing something, we often forget to sit and just listen to the target of our concern. The best thing you can do is have a conversation about why the person you love doesn’t want to see a doctor and figure out if you can think of ways to motivate them based on those reasons.

Here are some of the most common reasons I hear and how I normally respond to them.

I feel fine. I don’t need to see a doctor.

Feeling fine can be a great indicator of your health and works especially when it comes to infections. The problem is, there are a lot of diseases that can stay hidden for years without causing any noticeable symptoms. High blood pressure is one of these. I’ve seen patients with dangerously high blood pressure at imminent risk of stroke walk into the office feeling totally fine.

It’ll probably just go away.

This is a tough one to argue with because they’re right, it might go away. The problem is, it might not and unless you see a medical professional it’s tough to know which one you have. Pain is a great example. Certain types of short term pain are normal and will go away with time. But some pain reflects a problem that might need to be urgently addressed. Wait too long and it might be too late to fix.

I don’t have time to see a doctor.

This can be a real problem for people who work long hours and who may not get out of the office until well after the doctor has left. This is one of those situations where you’re preventing a future disaster. It might seem tough to miss a day of work to see the doctor, but it’ll be a whole lot worse if you wait until it becomes an emergency and you’re out for weeks recovering.

It’s too embarrassing.

As we age, it seems like the needed exams get more embarrassing. Take the rectal exam, for example. It’s often used to check for prostate cancer in men or as an initial exam for colon cancer and no one enjoys it. While these exams can be uncomfortable and at times embarrassing, early detection of diseases like cancer can save lives.

Whenever I go, the doctor never does anything.

This is a common complaint I come up against and it’s one of the reasons we end up giving out unnecessary medications and doing unnecessary procedures. While you might not get tests or new medications, you’ll be able to talk to your doctor about how your health has been and get any health questions answered that you might have. The other benefit? That person who’s been trying to drag you to the doctor will finally leave you alone.

It can be frustrating trying to convince someone to go to the doctor, but stick with it. When in doubt, bring up the issue and just try and listen. The more you understand about your loved one’s reasons for not wanting to go, the better you’ll be at convincing them otherwise.