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Patients Doctors Can’t Stand (Are You One?)

Jan. 19, 2020

The Washington Post – In what may be a well-kept professional secret, physicians dread encounters with about 15 percent of their patients.

In 1978, the New England Journal of Medicine published what has become a classic on the subject: “Taking Care of the Hateful Patient.”

“Admitted or not,” wrote the author, psychiatrist James E. Groves, “the fact remains that a few patients kindle aversion, fear, despair or even downright malice in their doctors.”

For physicians, these suck-the-life-out-of-you patients are needy, demanding and forever unhappy with their care.

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“When one of their symptoms is relieved, another mysteriously appears in its place,” Groves writes about one variation of what British physicians call “heartsink patients.”

“Low-level torture (death by a million little cuts),” write the authors of “Managing Difficult Interactions with Patients in Neurology Practices.”

They may order the doctor to perform diagnostic tests, prescribe medications, or make referrals, none of which are medically necessary, they say. The attitude: “I bought you. It is my right.”

Take it down a notch to everyday thoughtlessness. One internist asking for confidentiality described a patient who called her office emergency line at 2:52 a.m. She returned the call immediately only to find he needed routine prescriptions.

The kicker? His pharmacy didn’t open until 9 a.m.

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“This happens fairly frequently,” she says. “Some patients seem to know they will get a callback right away if they call the emergency line instead of waiting for office hours when calls are screened by the front-desk staff.”

Doctors may pay the price for a disgruntled patient whether it is deserved.

A patient can destroy a doctor’s reputation with bad reviews of the practice across the Web. Another physician regretfully declined an interview for this article on the advice of lawyers; one of his patients is suing him now. Read more. 

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