Don’t Be Obnoxious

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

I sometimes hear people say that they best way to get good health care is to be obnoxious. By this, they mean that you should demand that the doctor see you immediately, or that you should demand that your needs be met first.

Let me give you some advice: Don’t be obnoxious. It always works against you.

There are times that it’s entirely appropriate that you speak up and advocate for yourself or a loved one, but please do so politely.

Some patients complain about everything. When you complain all the time, people stop listening and you become part of the background noise.

If you’re really obnoxious, people think of you as a special case requiring special attention.

In health care, it’s better not to be a special case. You want to be like everyone else because the systems work better and health professionals maintain their normal rhythms.

VIPs sometimes get bad care for this very reason. They’re treated differently and that leads to mistakes. I recently read an account of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. When they took Reagan to the emergency room at George Washington Hospital, the physician who always travels with the president kept reminding the staff to treat Reagan like everyone else and with their normal protocols.

There’s a lesson in this for the rest of us. Don’t demand special treatment because special treatment is often bad medicine.

And remember that health care professionals are humans, too. They respond better to kindness and thoughtfulness than to rudeness. We all do.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Click here for all of Bob’s columns

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