Doctors Off-the-Record

Advice so honest and uncensored, we gave these doctors anonymity. Use it to get the best care possible from the white coats in your life.

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Be sure you need the care you're paying for.

"One thing that really concerns me is our test-happy medical system. When I look at a new patient's record, I often see she's been put through a battery of cardio-related tests: a stress test, an echocardiogram, a carotid artery screening. Yet she hasn't had a simple blood test for two years! Make sure you get a blood test — which is inexpensive — before anything more complex. If your doc suggests further exams, ask for the reason for each and every test."

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—A physician and professor at one of the East Coast's top medical schools

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I can tell when you're not taking your meds.

"I get very frustrated when people swear they're taking their prescriptions, and later I see that their numbers have gotten worse. Tests don't lie; I usually email the patient and say, 'You know, your cholesterol levels are higher than before we started you out on the medication. I'd rather not increase your dosage, so before we go that route, is there something lifestyle related that might be creating the problem?' A typical response: 'You caught me! I haven't been taking my meds.' It often turns out that there's fear about the treatment. Sometimes they can't afford a drug or they're worried about unpleasant side effects. Other times it's because they got false information about a drug being unsafe. Whatever the reason, let me know so we can find a solution that will work for you."

—A well-known cardiologist and professor at a major New York university

Turn off that cell phone.

"I'm not talking about people who yak away loudly in my waiting room. Believe it or not, there are a lot of patients who actually keep talking or emailing the entire time I'm trying to examine them! Let's forget the fact that this is rude — the bigger issue is that if you're busy on your phone, how can I give you an accurate evaluation or communicate with you about your health?"

—A board-certified family medicine physician and award-winning author

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I'm here to treat you, but I need your help.

"I'm a really busy ER doctor who sees lots of patients daily, and I'm always amazed at the number of people who come in and can't tell me the most basic info I need to treat them. When I ask, 'Do you have any preexisting conditions?' it's astonishing how many people can't tell me the answer. If you have a significant health problem, it's crucial that I know about it. For example, if you take blood thinners and you've had a fall, I need to know you're on those meds so I can make sure you aren't at risk for serious bleeding. If you can't recall your whole health history, keep a little cheat sheet of info in your wallet. Because in health, the details really matter."

—A practicing emergency room physician and government health official

It's OK to cry.

"As a critical care obstetrician, I sometimes have to deliver alarming news to patients, usually an issue I see on an ultrasound concerning their babies. This, understandably, can be extremely frightening for the person hearing it. I want every woman to know that if you get a bad diagnosis or prognosis, you have the right to react however you want. If you need to cry, do it — you don't have to wait to leave the room. I let my patients know they are not alone; it's my job to make you feel we're in it together."

—A medical director of a major hospital's top perinatal center

I get frustrated with medical costs too.

"As a psychologist, I am constantly dealing with insurance companies that don't understand it costs more down the road when they make it harder for people to get mental health care. Why? Untreated mental health issues can lead to stress-related physical conditions. Be a fierce advocate for your well-being, and get your doctor to help. If a patient has hit her yearly quota for therapy sessions, I'll work to split billing across two years. Sometimes we have to be creative."

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—A psychologist and founding director of a developmental clinic

How I cope with burnout may also help you.

"Here's a recent day in my life as a doctor: I took care of a patient who confessed that he was suicidal. And then I had a difficult conversation with the wife of an Alzheimer's patient. That's the dark side of practicing medicine: watching people suffer. It's an immensely gratifying job, but it can be very draining. Here's how I handle it: I tell my colleagues if I'm feeling too stressed, and they cover for me if I need some time away. Find people you can rely on when a break isn't just optional, it's a must."

—A professor at a well-known medical school, clinic director, and trustee of a physicians' academy

Tell me the truth about your symptoms.

"This is something that frequently happens: I had a patient come to me with chest pain, and she kept repeating, 'I don't think it's anything.' I tried to ask her about her pain: Was it dull, aching, or squeezing? She wasn't clear. I wanted to make sure she wasn't having a heart attack. It turned out to be heartburn, but to get any information out of her was like pulling teeth. Another patient wasn't so lucky: He denied having chest pain, but an EKG test showed an irregular heartbeat. He returned to my office for a follow-up, and the results were very abnormal. Finally, he admitted he'd had chest pressure for more than a year. He had to have bypass surgery the next day. If you're tempted to lie about your real symptoms, know this: Bad news is often good news because, as your doctor, I can give you the treatment you need. The lesson? Be honest. Your life may depend on it."

—A primary care physician and fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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