Types Of Patients That Doctors Can't Stand

It's a tough time to be a doctor. The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging in many areas, hospitals and medical clinics are generally short-staffed and, for better or worse, patients are turning to the internet more than ever before for medical guidance. According to a 2020 survey by the American Medical Association, healthcare workers are suffering from increased anxiety and depression (38%), work overload (43%), and burnout (49%). In order for our doctors and other healthcare workers to continue caring for us, we probably need to start taking care of them, too.

To avoid driving your doctors, nurses, and other medical staff batty, it may be a good idea to check in on some of your own behaviors before scheduling your next appointment. For example, while doing a little pre-visit online research can sometimes benefit the patient-doctor relationship (per a 2017 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research), demanding specific treatments from your doctor can be problematic. 

Whether it's relying on Dr. Google for health information, arriving late for doctor's appointments, neglecting to share relevant medical information, or avoiding the doctor altogether, there are many things that patients do (or don't do!) that can exasperate their doctors. Below are 14 types of patients that doctors can't stand.

Self-diagnosing patients

Nowadays, with health information so easily accessible online, many people seemingly believe they can diagnose their own medical conditions without visiting the doctor. A 2020 study in Sage Journals' Public Health Report determined that 67.5% of adults in the United States use electronic means to access health information. Unfortunately, this common practice can be risky for multiple reasons. Per VeryWell Health, some patients become overly certain of their self-diagnosis, which can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety, as well as cause friction with their doctor. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a patient may decide they don't need medical attention at all, when they actually do. Since early treatment generally leads to the best health outcomes, delayed treatment can be dangerous.

If you're going to look for health information online, be thoughtful about where you look. For instance, many people believe unreliable sources on social media. A 2021 study in the Journal of Medical Internet Research observes, "Most social media users (638/1003, 63.6%) were unlikely to fact-check what they see on the internet with a health professional." The National Institute on Aging suggests starting with government-sponsored health websites such as the National Institutes of Health and MedicinePlus. When visiting other online health sites, consider who provided the information: Was it written by a health professional or by someone trying to sell a miracle cure? 

Bottom line: For the sake of your well-being, consult your doctor to obtain an accurate medical diagnosis.

Patients who ignore medical advice

Your doctor provides medical recommendations for a reason: In their opinion, these are things that you should do to improve your health. Whether this involves making healthy lifestyle modifications, taking prescription medications, visiting a specialist, or having a medical procedure, you will likely benefit from following through on your doctor's medical advice. On the other hand, things probably won't improve if you don't. Dr. Steven Feldman, a professor at Wake Forest School of Medicine, discusses treating psoriasis patients early in his career: "I couldn't get anyone's scalp to clear up, but then I figured out what the problem was: core compliance" (via Health eCareers).

Of course, patients who ignore medical advice often have reasons why. An article in the Huffington Post covers some of these: we don't like what we are hearing, we think we know more than the doctor, we have given up, we are too busy, or we fear a serious diagnosis. While all of this may be understandable, the bottom line is that denying health issues can be deadly (per WebMD).

If you don't understand your doctor's recommendations, try asking more questions. If you don't agree with what they say, let them know why and get a second opinion. If you can't afford medication or treatment, talk to your doctor so that they can help find a solution. If you are advised to make lifestyle changes, consider resources for support.

Patients who are late to appointments

We get it: You've spent plenty of time over the years waiting for your doctor. But does this mean that they should be expected to wait for you? Doctors can run late for many reasons, including being overbooked, having to deliver bad news to another patient, and dealing with emergencies. Dr. Deborah Gilboa, family physician and clinical assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, explains (via Everyday Health), "I'm often responding to emails, text messages, and phone calls from patients about things that are concerning and urgent."

Your doctor will understand if you are occasionally late to an appointment, especially if you apologize and have a good excuse. But Katie Klingberg, MD, implored patients to be on time via an open letter in KevinMD. "Patients need to understand we are stretched thin as is. Primary care has become factory line assembly work, and if you come late or disrupt the flow, the assembly line shuts down and clogs, and no one is happy." 

If you do show up late, there may be a grace period during which the doctor will still see you –– but keep in mind that you may be causing other patients to wait as a result. If you are asked to reschedule, consider asking whether you can see a different practitioner right away (per the Philadelphia Inquirer).

Patients who are distracted

There are many potential distractions that can arise during a doctor's visit, some of which are more likely than others to irritate your doctor. Let's start with your phone: Making a note on it about something your doctor recommends is one thing, but taking an unrelated phone call is quite another. Bringing children to appointments is another common source of contention. If you can't find someone to watch your child, What to Expect offers some helpful suggestions on how to manage. These include scheduling early in the day, securing your child in a stroller or car seat during the exam, and offering favorite toys and snacks (or whatever it takes!) to keep them entertained.

Distractions during telemedicine appointments are becoming a major issue, with doctors complaining that patients aren't fully engaged. Mobi Health News states that of telehealth patients surveyed, 73% of men and 39% of women report having been distracted during online health visits. The Doctors details a range of distracted patient behaviors during telehealth visits, including internet use (24.5%), watching movies or TV (24%), browsing social media sites (21%), and playing video games (19%). They also report less common behaviors like exercising, smoking, eating, driving, drinking alcohol, vacuuming, and attending appointments from public venues.

Being distracted can impact your doctor's ability to collect necessary information, accurately diagnose health conditions, and make treatment recommendations. If you conduct a virtual visit from a public forum, your doctor may also be limited by privacy concerns.

Patients who don't ask questions

It's entirely natural that you may not understand everything your doctor tells you. After all, you probably didn't go to medical school like they did. Even so, understanding health information in order to make decisions about it — or health literacy — can be essential for your well-being (per the American Heart Association). Your doctor may be the first to suggest that you can increase your understanding by asking more questions. According to a Consumer Reports survey of 660 primary care physicians, most doctors shared that "it was 'somewhat' or 'very' helpful for patients to ask them questions and occasionally question their recommendations." Meanwhile, only 4% of doctors surveyed regarded such strategies as "downright unhelpful."

If you're not sure what to ask your doctor, the Cleveland Clinic has a number of suggestions. For example, you can ask how serious a disease or condition is, what caused it, and what your treatment options are. You can also ask about the pros and cons of different treatments, how to get a second opinion, and what your short- and long-term prognosis involves.

Unfortunately, language barriers, challenges with literacy, and issues causing difficulty following instructions can lead to below-average health literacy. In some cases, supportive personnel (such as a translator) may be available to help.

Patients who are disrespectful

While the ability to self-advocate is generally important, being rude or overly demanding to doctors, nurses, or other medical staff is never okay. If you are ever tempted to yell, use inappropriate language, or act aggressively, take a beat and remember that everyone is doing their best during challenging times. Then, try talking to your doctor about why you are so upset. 

In an opinion piece for the Chicago Tribune, Sarah Poggi, MD., an obstetrician practicing in Alexandria, VA, reflects on her workplace violence training. "I learned that people don't 'just snap'. Even 'normal' patients and family members can be frustrated by a lack of control over health problems. These feelings can escalate to the use of profanity, yelling and threats." While empathetic, Dr. Poggi also points out that doctors fear these "behaviors of concern."

Naturally, respect goes both ways. For instance, many patients feel frustrated because their doctor doesn't listen. If this sounds familiar, there are things you can do to improve communication during appointments (per WebMD). Start by jotting down notes before you go to the doctor, asking straightforward questions, bringing a companion, and being as honest and accurate as possible when discussing your health. You can also ask your doctor how best to contact them with follow-up questions. If none of this helps, you can always share the New York Times article on the six habits of highly respectful physicians. (Hopefully, they'll take the hint –– if not, perhaps it's time to change doctors!)

Patients who ignore early symptoms

Earlier diagnosis usually leads to better health outcomes, including cures and more treatment options, per a 2004 study in Statistical Methods in Medical Research. With this in mind, you can probably understand why doctors get upset with patients who don't come in until it is too late. A 2015 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine identifies three main categories for why people avoid medical care. These include having unfavorable evaluations of seeking care, perceiving a low need for medical care, and experiencing traditional barriers like high cost, no health insurance, and time constraints.

Of course, visiting the doctor at the first signs of a sniffle isn't always beneficial, either. Some ailments such as the common cold do not usually require treatment. There are also some conditions for which early detection probably won't help (per Harvard Health). These include certain leukemias and lymphomas, sarcoidosis, some types of prostate cancer, osteoarthritis, mildly elevated LDL cholesterol, the common cold, and many other viral infections.

So when is it appropriate to schedule an appointment? The American Academy of Family Physicians lists general advice on a range of common ailments and when to see a doctor for them. If in doubt, don't hesitate to contact your doctor's office.

Patients who are poor historians

Although your doctor needs all relevant information to make an accurate diagnosis and offer treatment recommendations, it can sometimes be difficult for a patient to provide everything required. In the medical world, a "poor historian" is a patient who is unable to accurately report their medical history (via The Free Dictionary). According to 2011 research published in European Geriatric Medicine, this can be a sign of cognitive impairment, especially in older patients. For others, poor reporting may be a result of being distracted during the appointment, feeling ashamed of lifestyle behaviors, or simply arriving unprepared.

The National Institute on Aging recommends attending doctor visits prepared with information on symptoms, medications, lifestyle habits, and other areas of concern in your life. It may be helpful to completely fill out intake forms in advance (ask your loved ones for help if needed), prepare by jotting down notes in advance, answer your doctor's questions as fully as possible, and bring along a companion to help absorb information and take notes during the appointment.

Patients who blame doctors for not fixing them

While much progress has been made in the practice of medicine, many questions about how the body works remain. This is not your doctor's fault. Unfortunately, doctors don't always have the answers or necessary tools to provide a diagnosis. They may be unable to determine exactly what is causing your symptoms, or, they may know what's wrong, but an effective treatment doesn't exist. VeryWell Health states, "For patients who are undiagnosed, it's important to remember that the healthcare provider wants you to have a clear diagnosis, too, because that will be the best way to determine the right treatment."

Patients sometimes blame doctors when there is no cure. Thrive Global explains that the term "no cure" refers to "a medical condition which cannot be brought back to normalcy by using any of the available means of treatment or whatsoever." If you have been diagnosed with a disease that has no cure, you may wish to consider palliative and hospice care options (via National Institute on Aging).

Patients who hide getting a second opinion

If you want a second opinion from another practitioner for any reason, don't feel like you need to hide it. You may be surprised to learn that most doctors are fully supportive of this practice. Sometimes, a doctor may even suggest it. 

Anees Chagpar, MD, MBA, MPH, tells Yale Medicine, "Second opinions are commonplace these days. And just like with any major decision—buying a house or a car or going to college—it's not a bad idea to go to a couple of places to be sure you know what you're getting and why."

There are many circumstances in which getting a second opinion can be beneficial. These include having a rare disease, obtaining peace of mind for a treatment plan, or seeing a specialist for further evaluation (per WebMD). If your medical diagnosis and treatment are complex, even a specialist may suggest getting additional doctors involved. When you let your doctor know about your plans, they can facilitate the sharing of medical records so that ultimately, you will receive the best medical care possible.

Disgruntled patients who write poor online reviews

For better or for worse, online patient reviews are increasingly guiding the medical decisions of others, especially when it comes to choosing a new doctor. If you decide to explore healthcare reviews, keep in mind that poor reviews are opinion-based and may not be a fair assessment of the doctor's ability to diagnose and treat medical conditions (per WebMD). If you have a gripe with your doctor, we recommend giving them the opportunity to resolve the issue before posting a scathing online review. Your doctor will probably appreciate the open communication about what is going on, and can hopefully make things right.

Also, beware: An article in The Washington Post shares that by posting poor doctor reviews, you may be risking exposure of your own health information. "Burned by negative reviews, some health providers are casting their patients' privacy aside and sharing intimate details online as they try to rebut criticism." In the same article, Aaron Schur, Yelp's senior director of litigation, points out that most online reviews of doctors are focused on the patient's office wait, interactions with front office staff, billing issues, or bedside manner –– not on their medical expertise.

Overly anxious patients

When seeking medical care, it is important to take things one step at a time. If you are concerned about a health issue, try to avoid jumping to the worst case scenario. Instead, report your symptoms and other relevant medical information to your doctor. Then, trust them to do their job. (Of course, if you have doubts about your doctor's recommendations or want some additional peace of mind, don't hesitate to ask for a second opinion.)

The Anxiety & Depression Association of America recognizes the many difficulties involved in treating overly anxious patients: "Although some refuse to be examined by their physician due to their fear of discovering the worst, seeking reassurance from doctors, insisting on repeated medical tests, and visits to urgent care, are more common in health anxiety." Unnecessary demands from anxious patients can place doctors in a really tough situation.

If you are experiencing unusual anxiety about your health, talk to your doctor about it. According to the Center for Anxiety Disorders, "A hypochondriac is someone who lives with the fear that they have a serious, but undiagnosed medical condition, even though diagnostic tests show there is nothing wrong with them." Hypochondria is considered a mental health disorder and may require treatment. It usually appears in young adulthood.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Patients who disappear

Some patients visit the doctor, receive a diagnosis, then disappear forever. Other patients obtain treatment for an acute condition, then don't follow up afterwards as advised. Both scenarios are problematic. 

Though specific recommendations vary by health condition, doctors everywhere recognize the importance of continuing care. Per Patient Engagement HIT, "A long-term relationship with a patient is necessary for individuals recovering from all kinds of treatments. Cancer patients might undergo follow-up care monthly or annually after they enter remission, while orthopedic surgery patients might attend a handful of follow-up treatments after their procedures. The form and frequency of follow-up care entirely depends upon the kind of condition involved."

After getting discharged from the hospital, following up with your doctor can keep you from returning. It can also provide an opportunity to review test results and medications, along with obtaining lab work and a check of vital signs (per North Arizona Health). Of course, follow-up care can be important in non-hospital settings, too. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, regular visits can be used to monitor health, reinforce knowledge and action plans, confirm medicine regimens, schedule appointments, verify follow-through on referrals, and share lab results.

Patients who don't take ownership of their health

While some health conditions are beyond your control, there are others for which you can reduce your risks. Following a healthy lifestyle can help keep you from getting sick, according to a medically reviewed blog post on MedicineNet. The piece provides a number of helpful lifestyle tips, including eating a balanced diet, staying well hydrated, exercising regularly, getting enough good sleep, and avoiding alcohol and smoking.

Taking medications as instructed is another important way to take ownership of your health. On the topic, the FDA states: "Sticking to your medication routine (or medication adherence) means taking your medications as prescribed – the right dose, at the right time, in the right way and frequency. Why is doing these things important? Simply put, not taking your medicine as prescribed by a doctor or instructed by a pharmacist could lead to your disease getting worse, hospitalization, even death."

Finally, attending routine screenings is a key element in preventative healthcare. Johns Hopkins Medicine recommends discussing a schedule with your doctor that includes regular physical exams, body mass index (BMI) readings, immunizations, skin checks, eye exams, and screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, and sexually transmitted diseases.