I recently went to a singles event about a year ago called, The Great Love Debate: Why is Everyone Single? I went because I really wanted to know the answer to that question. I didn’t expect to meet anyone special there but I did, and her name was Linsdey. She came up to me during the after party to talk to me about a comment I made during the session. I had said that I had a list of qualities that I wanted in a man and one being at least 6 feet tall. Yes, I am one of those girls, but I have good reason; I’m 5’8”. She told me that the most important thing is to have a man that would be there truly for better or for worse. She went on to tell me that she had MS and that her husband was a great guy but she never would’ve gone for him if she would have stuck to her requirement of a man being at least 6 feet tall to date her. We continued talking about the most important trait to look for in a mate is someone who will really be there for better or for worse and in sickness and in health.
We then started to talk about our individual illnesses and how much we have taught ourselves about our illnesses and how little doctors actually know about anything. Now please don’t get me wrong, I completely respect the medical field, and I appreciate the doctors that treat me, but I also have come to realize that they are experimenting. They will give you a certain combo of drugs if it doesn’t work, they may lower or increase the dosage, or switch your medication for another one. The varied recommendations I have received from different doctors, and different diagnoses also supports the case that in a lot of cases doctors are doing their best and hoping that it works. No doctor knows your disease or your body better than you do. This is why it is imperative to be your own advocate, and be an active participant in your diagnosis and treatments. If you are too sick and you don’t have the energy then get a close friend, family, or a professional to come with you and be that person in your corner. The things that will make you an active advocate for your health care are simple, but not easy for everyone to do. The doctor’s role as an authority figure is still deeply ingrained in the culture.
Do you follow doctor’s orders, or do you participate in shared medical decision-making? The latter sounds better, but when you are in the room, with the paper on the exam table crinkling under your bare bottom, you may not feel so empowered. Here are some tips to help you feel more empowered at your next doctor’s visit. Remember this is your health, and ultimately you are the only one who will be affected by the healthcare you receive.
- Ask questions- “The onus is on the patient to indicate when they don’t understand something,” she says.
Ideally, doctors should always communicate at a level that matches a patient’s knowledge, but that’s not a realistic expectation. Gruman doesn’t fault doctors for occasional and unintentional lapses in communication.
- Be prepared- The average patient has three issues he or she wants to address during a visit with a doctor. Because time with the doctor is limited, it helps to make a list of the most important issues to cover and take it with you.
“If you have something that’s really scaring you, it’s best to get that on the table early on,” Haidet says. Avoid “doorknob complaints.” Those are things you suddenly remember, or pluck up the courage to mention as you’re walking out the door: “Oh, and by the way, I’m having chest pain.” At that point the doctor can’t do anything but tell you to make another appointment, or to go to the emergency room, as the case may be.
- Communicate Concerns and Desires- Communication means asserting yourself if you have a problem with the care you’re getting, or if there’s an issue you want your doctor to consider.
Your out-of-pocket costs, for example, may be a concern. Nearly 46 million Americans lack health insurance, and even those who are insured end up paying about one-third of what they spend on health care out-of-pocket. Nevertheless, many are shy about bringing up financial concerns with a doctor.
*For example: the doctor may know about financial assistance programs or other resources to help you pay your bill. Or the doctor may be able to help by discounting the fee for the office visit, or by sending you home with free prescription drug samples. You might also find out that a less expensive treatment option could potentially work just as well as a newer and pricier option.
- Understand how your health insurance works.
Maintain your own records- If you’ve ever switched doctors or seen a specialist, you know what a hassle it can be to have your records transferred. With the growing prevalence of electronic health records, maintaining your own copies is easier than ever. By keeping tabs on your own documents, you won’t have to worry as much about them getting lost in the shuffle, and you can see exactly what your doctors are seeing.
Review your medical bills for errors- An estimated 8 in 10 medical bills contain errors – errors that go undetected without the sharp eye of an empowered patient. Medical bills can be difficult to decipher. Adler recommends patients ask questions as they arise, even if they seem “obvious or ridiculous.”
Know when a second opinion is appropriate- One in 20 Americans fall victim to outpatient diagnostic errors, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. And even if you’re comfortable with your doctor’s diagnosis, seeking the input of another physician could save you from unnecessary medical costs and unnecessary stress.
Take advantage of free preventive care under the Affordable Care Act- With the ACA came access to free preventive care. If you’re insured under an ACA-compliant plan – and if your health insurance began after March 31, 2010 you likely are – you can take advantage of at least 15 free health screenings and services. Additional preventive services are available for women, children and older adults. These free services give you an additional reason to visit your doctor, keep the lines of communication open and stay on top of any potential health concerns.
- Stay current on developments about your particular condition or illness- Be careful about the sources from which you get your information. Message boards, poorly-curated “informational” sites and random Internet searches are not the way to go. Googling is fine, but check the sources of the articles that pop up. If the piece originates from one of the top 10 hospitals in the country for your particular ailment, it’s probably