Have you ever left a doctor’s office somewhat disappointed with your visit? Maybe you just spoke to a physician, but instead of having all your concerns addressed, you find yourself with even more questions? Do you ever wonder what doctors secretly wished patients would do that would make caring for you a smoother process?
My purpose in writing this post is to do two things: to provide practical tips that you can use today that will 1) help prepare you for encounters you might have with the health care system in the future…whether it’s a routine doctor’s visit or an unexpected trip to the ER, and 2) help you make the most out of your interactions with your physicians.
Therefore, without further ado…
#1- Carry around an up-to-date list of your medications with you at all times.
Even in this age of electronic medical records, few things are more valuable to me as a physician than when a patient is able to provide an accurate list of all medications and herbal supplements they currently take. If you haven’t yet, take the time to make one (with the name, the dosing schedule, and what it is for), then put it in your wallet. The next time a health care provider asks you, “What medications do you take?” show them your list. This will save both you and the staff time and energy, leaving more time to address issues important to you. It will also be invaluable if you encounter a medical emergency one day.
#2- Always ask for a copy of the results of your diagnostic tests and keep them in a file at home.
Another thing that is highly valuable that some people don’t realize is medical data–the lab results and radiology reports that contain crucial information about your health at a certain point in time. Even if you don’t understand what everything means, having the documents available at home empowers you as a patient, because then you have access to all the information that your physician has. Also, when going to a new doctor, it can be incredibly helpful if you come equipped with this information. Therefore, next time you have a test done, request a copy of the “official report” (Many times if you don’t ask, you will only be given a summarized version which is quite different and lacks some important information.)
#3- Before every appointment, write down any questions you may have, and feel free to take notes during the visit.
I wish more patients would do this, simply because given the time constraint of office visits and their rushed nature, it is easy to forget what you wanted to ask and just go along with your physician’s agenda. By having a physical list in front of you, not only will you be encouraged to actually ask them, but your physician will see that you have questions and try to allocate time for them.
#4- Always be honest with your physician. If the treatment plan is confusing or makes you hesitate, say something before you leave.
Never be afraid to tell your doctor that you would prefer an alternative treatment or to simply say, “I know I’m not going to take that medication, because _____.” The worst thing you can do for your health is to agree with your physician and then not adhere to the planned regimen, delaying appropriate care. Rather, by being honest with your doctor, he or she can then work with you to find the best alternative. Which brings me to the last and most important point:
#5- You should feel absolutely comfortable with your physician. If you don’t, do not be afraid to speak up.
This is SO important. I hear all too often about bad patient experiences, and it breaks my heart. Every health care provider has a different personality and treatment approach, and it may not mesh with yours. Some patients simply feel like they can’t say anything, even when they are being made to feel extremely uncomfortable. Therefore I would like to encourage you not to stay silent. If it is merely a matter of personal preference, kindly ask for another provider. However, if you feel like someone is simply being rude or unprofessional, say something. Tell them, or ask to speak to someone in charge (if you are at a hospital). Remember: you deserve to be respected and you deserve good care, so don’t settle for anything less.