A generation ago, most people’s approach to healthcare was to follow “doctor’s orders.” The physician controlled the relationship and all decisions about testing, treatments and medications. That passive model of healthcare is no longer the norm. Today, most people want to be informed, active partners in their care. So, what steps do you need to take to be an empowered patient?
The five keys to being an empowered patient
Be prepared. When you have a doctor’s appointment, know what you want to discuss. If you’re sick, what are your symptoms and how long have you had them? If you’re going in for a physical, think about any issues you’d like to talk to the doctor about, for example, you may want to ask about what you can do proactively to lower your risk of diseases like diabetes or arthritis. If you take medications and are experiencing side effects, ask if there are other options you can try. If you’re concerned about your weight, ask for exercise and nutrition guidance or a referral to a nutritionist.
Be informed. Gather the information you need to make the smartest healthcare decisions. You can do research on the Internet, though be careful to choose reputable sources. Some good options include hospital websites, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Another option is to work with a health advisor who can provide evidence-based information on health issues, treatment options, complementary and alternative medicine approaches to health and wellness, and available clinical trials if you’re facing a serious illness.
Ask questions. If you don’t understand something your doctor tells you, ask him or her to explain in plain English. If your doctor uses a computer or tablet to take notes during your visit, ask for a printed summary of what you discussed. Other questions you may want to ask include what medication side effects to be on the lookout for, whether you should schedule a follow-up appointment, and when and how you will receive the results of any tests ordered. If you’re seeing a specialist and need surgery, ask how frequently the doctor performs the procedure, what his or her complication rates are, and what the recovery process will be like.
Get support. If you’re facing a serious illness or a complex medical condition, ask a friend or family member to come to the appointment with you for both moral support and to take notes, since you may not be able to remember or process everything the doctor says. This is another area where a health advisor can be helpful.
Know when it’s time to part ways. One of the most difficult things for people to do is leave a relationship with a doctor with whom they’ve worked for a long time. If, however, you’re not comfortable with your doctor, don’t feel he or she is willing to answer your questions, or your doctor does not have experience treating the health issue you face, it’s time to look for a new one.