So what do you do if you don’t agree with your doctor’s advice?

Amber Taufen, a 33-year-old freelance writer and editor in Denver, Colorado, was surprised to learn at age 25 that she had high cholesterol. Taufen had gone to the doctor six weeks after her father died to get a prescription for the anti-depressant that her grief therapist recommended, and her blood work showed that her cholesterol was in the upper range of normal for her age. Taufen’s doctor wanted to put her on Lipitor, a statin drug that’s used to lower cholesterol. It can have side effects such as diarrhea and weight gain, and the doctor suggested that Taufen should be on it for life.

“It seemed like an extreme measure,” Taufen says. She asked the doctor about alternatives – like lifestyle modifications including regular exercise and a healthier diet. “[The doctor] said, ‘No, I think this is the treatment plan you should be on.’”

At 25, Taufen says she didn’t feel confident enough to voice her disagreement with her doctor. So she quietly walked away, and changed her diet and started exercising. “My results have been pretty impressive,” Taufen says. “My current physician thinks there’s never any reason for me to be on a cholesterol drug.”

In retrospect, Taufen says, “I wish I would’ve told [the first doctor] outright that I was going to leave her practice. And maybe if she’d heard that, she would’ve opened up.”

The experience, Taufen continues, “Made me a lot more selective about my choice of care provider. After that I’ve not gone to a physician without a personal recommendation.”

Striking the right chord in your relationship with your doctor is important, and as with most relationships, first impressions count. “The first 15 seconds of your interaction with a patient really set the tone for your experience​,” says Melissa Musiker​, a communications and policy strategist based in the District of Columbia ​and dietitian who was formerly a consumer member of the District of Columbia Board of Medicine, where she fielded a lot of patient complaints about doctors.

The vast majority of complaints, Musiker says, boil down to the larger issue of miscommunication. “Choice of words, tone, mannerisms impact how you [the doctor] are understood, and how willing a patient is to accept your advice,” she says. “Listening is critical as well.”

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary