5 Red Flags that a Healthcare Practitioner May Not Be Safe for You

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

April 29th, 2010 • Patient AdvocacyPrint Print

For those of us in chronic pain, there are a million reasons why we might choose to stay with a healthcare practitioner, even if that person is not quite meeting our needs. We may expect the same treatment or fear worse treatment from another healthcare practitioner; we may feel too emotionally, physically, or financially tapped to put in the time, effort, and possibly money involved in looking for a new healthcare practitioner; or we may live in a small town, have limited options in the immediate vicinity, and have limited access to transportation out of our area.

But sometimes staying with a healthcare practitioner can be more than unpleasant. It can be unsafe. That practitioner may misdiagnose us, jack up our pain levels through the stress of dealing with her or him, or even physically injure us by not listening to critical information we share. As exasperating as it may feel, and as draining as it may be, it just might be worth it to look for someone else to manage our care. Here are 5 red flags that a healthcare practitioner may not be safe for you:

1. The practitioner works with you in a way that feels abrupt, gruff, or otherwise harsh.
If you not only have chronic pain but also hypersensitivity, a practitioner who yanks, grabs, or pushes your body, or who careens around the floor on her or his rolling chair, can end up injuring or reinjuring your body. Not only that, but the anxiety you may feel around this practitioner may itself jack up your pain levels.

2. The practitioner refuses to give you or makes you wait long periods for tests or access to treatment.
If you have a practitioner who is unwilling to use her or his gatekeeping abilities to get you the diagnosis and treatment you need, what good is this individual to you?

3. The practitioner uses your case history for entertainment, judgment, or some other power trip.
There is one reason, and one reason alone, that we share our painful (literally and figuratively) journeys with healthcare practitioners: We are there for clinical help. There is never any valid reason for a practitioner to use that information in any way other than just that: information. If the practitioner makes jokes out of your story, tells you that you have bad luck or bad karma, rolls her or his eyes at your emotional expression, says that you should really wear a helmet walking down the street, or makes other inappropriate remarks, it very well may be time to move on.

4. You have the heeby-jeebies, internally clutch your body, or feel humiliated when you are in the practitioner’s presence.
You may not understand why, but you don’t really need to. Your body is telling you that you do not feel safe around this individual. Listen to your gut. 

5. The practitioner is unresponsive to your communication.
If you make the effort, once or a few times, to communicate your needs – such as the neex for gentle touch, verbal sensitivity, or access to tests and treatments – and the practitioner is dismissive, patronizing, caustic, unresponsive, or otherwise uncaring and insensitive, chances are it’s impossible to salvage the relationship with this practitioner. Keep in mind that a practitioner-patient relationship is just that: a relationship. And as with all relationships, there are good ones and bad ones. Stay away from the bad ones.


Diana Lee May 2nd, 2010

I had an experience where my most knowledgeable pain & neurology specialist wanted me to try craniosacral therapy. Of course I was willing to try it because it’s noninvasive and relatively harmless.
Unfortunately the guy he hooked me up with gave me major heebie jeebies. I was fighting the urge to jump off the table and run for the waiting room the entire time. As a result, I never followed up on the treatment.
I feel guilty because I feel some weird obligation to try everything my doctors suggest or risk being labeled a non-compliant patient, but I can’t fathom letting that man come near me ever again. I know in my head I don’t have to, but I can’t shake the guilty feeling.

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