One of the most important parts of your journey with any kind of peripheral neuropathy is to establish good relations with your doctor. Having recently had a bad experience with a locum GP, only reiterates the need for clear communication and real understanding, especially with a condition that seems to relatively unknown.
A strong emotional fit between how a patient ideally seeks to feel and their doctor makes it more likely that the patient follows the doctor’s health advice, according to a study by Stanford psychology Associate Professor Jeanne Tsai and Tamara Sims.
Sims said that by learning how patients want to feel and tailoring treatments accordingly, physicians can enhance their patients’ trust in them. Finding out what matters to a patient in terms of goals and values is important, she noted.
“This may open the lines of communication so that not only do patients listen more, but they open up and disclose more information to their provider,” she said in an interview.
Finding a specialist:
Finding a doctor who has the clinical training to diagnose and treat neuropathy is not an easy task, however. As Russell L. Chin, M.D. Associate Professor of Clinical Neurology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University states, “there is insufficient training even in medical school in the clinical aspects of neuropathy”.
Disclaimer: Everything written is based on personal and other’s testimonies, available journals and research.
Then there is the fact that there is no one test to diagnose neuropathy and 99 per cent of what the doctor must use is subjective and you have a cocktail for a major patient-doctor problem. So what can you do?
Dr Norman Latov, who specialises in neurology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, and author of Peripheral Neuropathy: When the Numbness, Weakness and Pain Won’t Stop, states early diagnosis and if possible treatment is critical to preventing severe disability. So where to begin?
- First understand that peripheral neuropathy is a neuromuscular disease. You need to find a Board Certified Neuromuscular Neurologist as this increases the odds of finding one who is able to diagnose and treat neuropathy. In this case, I found the name of a hospital and doctor through a similar hereditary neuropathy based organisation (CMT UK) and they were able to give more details.
- For those in the US, you may want to visit a neuropathy centre and the NSN website has a list of doctors and centres. It is worth reading LtCol Eugene B Richardson’s experience on finding a doctor, in which he had to try out several before settling on someone more suitable.
- Ask a nurse at the local hospital or doctor’s office. Ask a support group leader or even ask another patient in a support group. Everyone has different pieces of the jigsaw in regards to information, so it’s worth searching around for it.
- Avoid centres and doctors who claim to cure all neuropathies and offer over-stated claims. This again is mostly for US-based sufferers, as there are more private consultants that offer this kind of treatment.
Once you have found someone suitable, it is important to establish a rapport and relationship in moving forward. According to John A. Senneff in Numb Toes And Other Woes, you need to be as specific as possible in describing your symptoms and health concerns, including when the symptoms started, what they feel like, and lifestyle changes you made when they started, anything in particular that triggers them or anything that relieves your symptoms. 
What should you do once you have found a doctor?
In terms of working with your doctor, following are some of the suggestions given:
- Educate yourself – Your doctor should not be your only source of information. For example, pharmacists and patient support groups can provide useful information.
- Ask questions – If you have not call from a newspaper or magazine you would like to discuss with your doctor, don’t be reluctant to take the material with you to your appointment. If you disagree with what your doctor is prescribing do it in a way not to put him or her on the defensive. You may need to be tactful when asking.
- Disclose symptoms and medication – For your initial session remember to mention all of your medications including prescription as well as over the counter. Also be prepared to discuss your symptoms in detail.
- Discuss your medical history in depth – Don’t be afraid to divulge information that might be relevant. Your doctor will be much more effective in dealing with your problem if he or she knows as much about the surrounding circumstances as you do.
- Be honest – even if it’s uncomfortable with meeting to unhealthy behaviour. It is necessary to tell your doctor the truth.
- Take notes – if the explanation is complex have your doctor write it down for you.
- Get a second opinion – if your doctor advises an invasive test or therapy that carries risk.
Room for improvement definitely exists in the patient-doctor relationship. As Tsai and Sims note, physicians should recognise that their patients have “effective ideals” that might influence how they respond to physicians. In looking at how doctors can improve, the authors add:
- Physicians could evaluate their patients’ ideal affect in light of whether there are more effective health care providers or treatments consistent with those ideals.
- If none exist, physicians might discuss with patients how their ideal affect might help or hinder specific health care recommendations and treatments.
- More effective interventions aimed at educating clinicians about the importance of ideal affect in health care should be developed.
No matter how difficult it may seem sometimes, there are physicians out there who understands the value of the doctor patient-partnership for patients with hereditary neuropathy.
- 1. Page 237-238, “Numb Toes And Other Woes”, Senneff, John A., 2001.
- 2. Page 236, “Numb Toes And Other Woes”, Senneff, John A., 2001.