How to Deal With the Patient Who “Knows Their Own Body”


You’ve been there before. You walk into a patient’s room and they have come prepared to participate in their care, having researched their symptoms and assisted in their diagnosis. Although it’s important to remember your patient is an intelligent human being who is capable of understanding their health challenges, they may not have the full picture and they likely don’t have all the information.

Many patients don’t understand the process of diagnosing an illness or condition, or that a nurse or physician needs to understand the symptoms they are experiencing and not their self-diagnosis. While all patients are experts at their own symptoms, they are not experts at moving from symptoms to diagnosis. Here are some ways to deal with patients and create a productive experience at the same time.

Take Control of the Conversation 

Patients who are the “expert” often attempt to control the conversation and steer you in the right direction. You may have to place limits on the time you spend with them asking questions such as, “what’s the most pressing question you have today?” Recognize they have concerns and assure them that you hear those concerns and will be doing something about them. However, it is important to stay firm in your limitations.

Trying to Be Understanding 

Patients who believe they have the answer often have a reason for acting this way. They may have a need for admiration or may truly believe they have the answer to their medical problems. In either case, when you try to understand their motivation it can go a long way toward empathizing with their condition and therefore communicating respect. When people know you appreciate them, they can be better at trying to understand and respect your opinion.

Think Before Answering 

Most patients who believe they know everything are annoying, and it is very easy to respond in anger. Take time to take a breath and calm down, think of an appropriate response before speaking. By taking the time, you may increase your confidence. Dealing with somebody and giving the impression you are considering their ideas can always help. In turn, your thoughtful response also receives more respect and it’s more likely to be accepted.

Ask Specific Questions 

At the beginning of determining what’s going on, open-ended questions may help elicit perceptions, but more specific questions can help the patient disclose expectations and hidden agendas. By understanding what the patient needs, wants, and is looking for, you can focus your education as it applies to their physical disorder and be better able to meet their needs.

Be Prepared 

Ask your patient what sites they’re using for health-related research and how they may have come to their conclusions. This helps you discern information you may use to educate the patient and redirect them toward best practices. By understanding the resources they’ve already used, you can help them find appropriate resources for education and further research.

In some instances, your patients really will have good insight into their symptoms and may come with an understanding of their diagnosis. It is important to differentiate between those who believe they know what’s going on and those who do understand. Offer resources and education to fit the needs of both.

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