I Don't Want to Follow Doctor's Orders

We call them “doctors’ orders.” You know, “Take these pills” or “Wear this splint.” Given the connotations, “doctors’ orders” is a terrible term.

Prescriptions and medical advice are not like military sergeants’ orders—commands that privates must follow without question. In the spirit of patient autonomy, patients decide whether to follow their doctors’ orders. Patients hold the power.

If you want to get good care, though, that power carries responsibility. It’s on you to follow your doctors’ orders. If you can’t—or don’t want to, it’s on you to let your doctors know.

Studies document so-called non-compliance (another terrible term in medicine) as a huge problem. Whatever patients’ reasons for not complying, they owe it to themselves to be honest with their doctors about it. Patients hurt themselves if they accept written prescriptions or nod in agreement about pieces of advice, knowing they’re not going to follow through. That deception damages the bond of trust while compromising their recovery.

The purpose of your doctor visits is to work together to help you get the best care. Your doctors need to trust that you will speak up if you…

  • Don’t understand something

  • Can’t—or don’t want to—follow their recommendations

Doing so opens opportunities for your doctors to…

  • Learn more about you, your challenges, and your needs

  • Dispel myth and misinformation

  • Offer insights and tips on overcoming obstacles to following recommendations

  • Offer new recommendations that you can—and will—follow

To receive the best care, tell the truth. Work together with your doctors to understand and overcome the obstacles to following recommendations.