It’s time to take charge of your relationship with your healthcare provider.
When faced with a health issue, we turn to our doctor and other healthcare specialists for information, support and a positive resolution. But when you head to an appointment, do you go armed with research gleaned from reputable sources? Are you prepared to ask questions and voice your concerns if something doesn’t seem right? Many aren’t. In a recent Medscape poll, a majority of physicians and nurses surveyed said they would describe less than a quarter of their patients as empowered advocates for their health.
It’s time to take charge of your relationship with your healthcare provider in a way that places you squarely on the same team, rather than on the sidelines.
Take Control, Stat
Your doctor is an expert, but why not take some time to do your own research about a medical issue you’re experiencing before heading to an appointment? Your access to reputable websites, like those maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Mayo Clinic, can provide you with invaluable information and help you know what to ask your doctor, as well as better understand what he or she recommends. Just be sure to avoid misinformation; rely instead on websites run by reputable, major hospitals, healthcare organizations and government agencies. Afterward, research any recommended procedures and prescriptions, as well as costs through your state’s department of insurance and your insurance company’s website.
Loud and Clear
When you visit the doctor, go prepared with a list of specific questions informed by your online research. Do your best to avoid what are commonly called “doorknob complaints,” things you suddenly remember – or simply gain the courage to express – as you walk out the door. Voice those concerns early on in the appointment, while your doctor has time to discuss the possibilities and your options.
Once you’ve received a clear explanation of your condition and proposed treatment, results and any possible side effects, write the information down for future reference while you’re still in the office. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask for further clarification. In a situation that’s emotionally stressful, it’s best not to rely on memory alone. Even routine doctor’s visits can be overwhelming, so think about taking someone you trust with you. At the very least, they’ll provide support during and after your appointment. They could also be another set of eyes and ears to record the details you may learn, which, in turn, will make coordinating care among providers easier.
Remember that you’re the boss. You have the right to respectful and considerate treatment, just as you have the right to ask questions and receive meaningful responses. You have the right to a healthcare professional who will listen to you and take time to understand what’s going on. And you also have the right to ask for a second medical opinion and, if necessary, to change physicians to ensure you’re receiving the care you need.
Keep Your Records Straight
If you’ve ever switched doctors or seen a specialist, you know that transferring your records can be a hassle. But, with electronic health records becoming the norm, it’s easier than ever to both obtain and then digitally maintain your own copies. By creating a personal healthcare file that tracks your medical history, you can advocate for yourself without worry of forgetting anything – an important consideration if you’re nervous and distracted during an appointment, or are not able to tell your medical provider yourself. Documents to include (and update regularly) in your personal healthcare file include:
- Notes from previous appointments
- Medications with dosages
- Medical providers and their contact information
- Important treatment records (e.g., hospital summaries, surgeries, lab reports)
- Emergency contacts
- Your preferred pharmacy
- Family medical history
- Implanted devices you have
- Immunization records
- Alternative treatments you’ve undergone and supplements you take
- Healthcare proxy or durable power of attorney, indicating who makes medical decisions for you if you’re not capable of doing so
Once you’ve created your personal healthcare file, share its location with your loved ones – particularly those who have been granted HIPAA authorization – and any individuals who will be called on to support you during a health issue. This summary of your medical history can be indispensable in the event of an emergency, as it ensures hospital staff and other parties involved can be brought up to speed quickly.
Learning how to advocate for your own health is vital when forming a partnership with your healthcare providers to better participate in your own care, rather than simply receive care passively. You are the only one who knows what it’s like to live in your body, so now is the time to begin to feel empowered, to voice your opinion, to ask questions, and to truly take control of your health.