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11 Things Patients Never, Ever Want to Hear

Things patients don't want to hear, according to medical experts. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Avoiding the doctor is a common practice many people have. Whether it's due to cost factors, busy schedules, trying to steer clear of unwanted news or inconveniences such as dealing with insurance, there are many reasons why people put off their annual visits. While routine check-ups should be a priority to help prevent major health issues, it can be an annoyance at times. "Most people don't enjoy going to the doctor's office. It can be a daunting and anxiety-inducing experience, especially if you're unsure what the doctor will say," Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies tells us. She adds, "No one likes to hear bad news, and that includes patients who are dealing with health issues. However, doctors often have to deliver difficult information to their patients." Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with experts who share what no patient ever wants to hear and why.  Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Calm Down

Woman getting her painful chest examined by a doctor.

Sean Marchese, MS, RN, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center with a background in oncology clinical trials and over 15 years of direct patient care experience says, "Understandably, doctors and health care providers are exceptionally busy. However, providers should never dismiss a patient's feelings or emotional reactions. Give the patient time to process the information you've given them. Be responsive to questions and try to connect with them and understand their concerns. Medical challenges are life-altering for many people, and being a source of medical support also means listening and empathizing with patient reactions." 


Can You Fax That To Us?

Young woman putting letter into envelope at table in cafe. Mail delivery

"Fax machines were a very common way of sending documents from one office to another… in the 1990s!" said Matt Dietz, Division Director of Digital and Virtual Health Strategy at MercyOne. "Health systems need to make it easier for patients to send and receive documents, especially when trying to keep younger patients engaged in their care."


Did You See That On The Internet?

patient speaking with doctor

Marchese states, "Today's internet has a wealth of information, but not all of it is accurate or helpful. However, you can't begrudge patients for wanting to know more about their condition. Don't be dismissive of their internet research. Instead, ask them what they've learned and educate them on how it compares to the medical literature. Explain that it's essential to do research, but finding trustworthy sources is vital." 


You Will Get A Bill For The Doctor And A Separate One For Your Labs

Surprised senior mature woman counting bills at home.

Dr. Joseph McGargill, MD, Chief Medical Informatics Officer for MercyOne says, "Patients receiving multiple bills for services during a single visit decreases patient satisfaction as they now have to keep track of multiple bills. Having a singular billing system decreases that frustration and prevents the chance a patient misses an extra bill that may end up in collections."


Okay, Do You Understand?

Female doctor consults mature patient during the quarantine for coronavirus.

Marchese says, "Rushing through a medical explanation doesn't benefit anyone. A doctor's appointment is a high-stress environment for many people, and stress causes a decreased ability to process or retain information. Patients also don't want to seem unintelligent or inattentive and will likely respond "yes" even if they don't fully understand your explanation. Try rephrasing the information to allow the patient to ask questions and occasionally ask the patient to rephrase the information in their own words." 


I'm Sorry, But You Have Cancer

Radiologist looking at the MRI scan images.

Dr. Mitchell says, "Cancer. It's a word that no one wants to hear, especially from their doctor. Cancer is perhaps the most challenging news a doctor can deliver. Cancer is a word that instantly changes everything. Cancer patients are faced with a long and challenging journey ahead, one that will test their strength and resilience. Cancer is a word that reminds us of our mortality and the fragility of life. Cancer is a word that no one ever wants to hear. Cancer is a word that we all dread. Cancer is a word that changed my life forever. Cancer patients are fighting the battle of their lives, and we must never forget that. Cancer patients are warriors, and we must never forget that. Cancer patients are an inspiration to us all, and we must never forget that. Cancer patients remind us of the importance of life and of the importance of living each day to the fullest. Cancer patients are an inspiration to us all, and we must never forget that.

Here are three things you can do if your doctor tells you that you have cancer:

  1. Get a second opinion: it is essential to get a second opinion, especially if you have just been diagnosed. Cancer is a severe diagnosis, and you want to make sure that the first doctor got it right. Getting a second opinion can also help put your mind at ease.
  2. Make a treatment plan: Once diagnosed, you need to make a treatment plan with your doctor. This plan will include what type of treatment you will undergo and how often you will need treatment.
  3. Find a support group: Cancer can be a very isolating experience. Finding a support group of people who are going through the same thing can help you feel less alone and give you the strength to fight cancer."

Downplaying a Cancer Patient's Concerns

risk of cancer

Marchese shares, "Understandably, many healthcare providers want to reassure cancer patients on their visit when they first receive their diagnosis. Hearing that news is devastating, and everyone reacts differently. Emotions can run high, but it's essential to keep a few things in mind. First, give the patient time to process the information. After hearing the word cancer, many patients will be significantly less receptive to details such as tumor size, treatment options and other specifics. Second, check in with what they're thinking and feeling — something like, "I know this isn't easy news to hear. Tell me what's on your mind right now, and I'll help answer any concerns you might have." Second, let the patients know that this isn't the end of the conversation. A cancer diagnosis, in many cases, means a team of experts will start working around the clock to figure out the best options personalized to each patient. Don't make it seem like the end of the first visit is the end of the conversation. Working through a cancer diagnosis is a collaborative effort between the patient and their health care team." 


Your Test Results Came Back Positive

Doctor telling to patient woman the results of her medical tests

According to Dr. Mitchell, "Whether it's a positive pregnancy test or a positive result for a more severe condition, a positive test can evoke so many feelings, especially if it's not the news a patient wanted. Receiving a positive test result can be a confusing and frightening experience, especially if it's not the news the patient was hoping for. It's important to remember that a positive test result is just one piece of information and that there are many other factors that will contribute to the final diagnosis. Here are three things patients should do if they receive a positive test result: 

First, it's important to stay calm and collected. This can be difficult, but it's important to remember that a positive test result is not always indicative of a serious condition. Staying calm will allow patients to think more clearly and make decisions based on facts rather than emotions. 

Second, patients should seek out additional information. This may include asking their doctor for clarification on the results or getting a second opinion from another medical professional. It's important to remember that test results are often interpretive and that there is often more than one way to interpret them. 

Finally, patients should make sure to take care of themselves, both physically and emotionally. This may include getting plenty of rest, eating a healthy diet, and spending time with supportive friends and family members. Taking care of oneself is essential for managing any chronic condition, but it's especially important."


Unfortunately, There Is No Cure


Dr. Mitchell shares, "One of the most difficult conversations a doctor can have with a patient is informing them that their condition is incurable. It is an immensely difficult thing for patients to accept, and doctors must be careful in how they deliver the news. The first step is to make sure that the patient has a clear understanding of their condition. This means thoroughly explaining the diagnosis and what it means for their long-term health. Once the patient has a full understanding of their situation, the doctor can then explain the available treatment options. This includes both traditional and experimental therapies, as well as palliative care options. It is important for patients to know that there are still ways to improve their quality of life, even if there is no cure for their condition. Ultimately, though it is a difficult conversation to have, informing patients about all of their treatment options is an essential part of providing quality care."


The Treatment May Be Worse Than The Disease

patient in robe sitting on table at doctor's office

"Many treatments have side effects that can be as bad as the disease itself,"says Dr. Mitchell.  "This is something that doctors have to weigh when recommending treatment options to their patients."


How Doctors Deal With Delivering Bad News

Man at doctor's office.

Dr. Mitchell shares, "As a doctor, I am often faced with difficult news. Whether it is a diagnosis of a terminal illness, or the death of a patient, it is seldom easy to hear. However, I have learned to cope with this by living each day to the fullest. I make sure to take care of myself, both physically and emotionally. I also try to live in the present moment as much as possible and savor each moment I have with my loved ones. Additionally, I find it helpful to keep making new dreams and goals, even when faced with hardship. This helps me to remember that life is still worth living, even when things are tough. By following these practices, I am able to come to terms with difficult news and continue living a fulfilling life."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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