In today’s world we’re all busy people, and this includes your doctor. The practice of medicine has changed significantly. What this means is that today, with increasing managed care and decreasing payments for services, doctors are measured on how many patients per hour a day they see efficiently yet effectively, while maximizing the bottom line. With luck you’ll have about 20 minutes with your doctor, and often a lot less.
So how do you ensure you’re taking full advantage of the doctor visit to get the care you need and deserve, making sure you’re not suffering because of something that was overlooked? Take charge, speak up, and consider the following tips to help you get the most out of your relationship with your doctor:
1. Be prepared. There are many credible medical web sites with comprehensive information such as WebMD, www.webmd.com, or the MayoClinic, www.mayoclinic.com. Do your own research ahead of time, and write down your questions.That way you’ll be informed and prepared, and maximize the time you have with your doctor.
2. Take a buddy. Bring someone with youa family member or good friend. You’re likely to get a lot of information in a short time, in often unfamiliar terms, and won’t be able to absorb or remember it all. Also, consider taking a tape recorder to your appointment. That way if your son or daughter was unable to go with you, but had questions of their own about your diagnosis or treatment plan, you can play the recording back for them at your leisure.
3. Seek out other opinions. No matter how much you like your doctor and how long you’ve had a relationship, the reality is that medicine is evolving at an incredibly rapid pace. It’s impossible for any doctor to keep up on the latest information and research, about new treatments for all diseases and conditions. It’s not disrespectful to ask for a referral to a specialist for more information and care. I believe I’m alive today, because I sought out a sub-specialist in my disease.
It also doesn’t hurt to ask your doctor (politely), “How many times have you done this procedure?” Or “Are you a paid consultant to the maker of this drug, or medical device you are recommending for me?” These questions are part of being a smart patient, and making the correct choice for yourself.
4. Ask for a copy of your test results. While it is true that you may not always be able to understand the significance of those test numbers, the fact is that you own them (i.e., you, Medicare, or your health insurance policy paid for the tests). When you ask for a copy of your test results, you put your doctor on notice that you’re an engaged patient. With your test results in hand, you’re more likely to consult other doctors for a second or third opinion, without incurring additional costs for taking the same tests.
5. Raise all the issues even the insignificant ones. Your doctor’s busy schedule is not your problem. Don’t omit talking about what might seem insignificant simply because you feel the pressure of his/her business. Speak up. Don’t assume that because you’re feeling a little more tired than you used to be that it’s a normal consequence of aging. It could be the early signs of something more serious. Maybe blood work is in order. Mention all the little things – a change in sleeping habits or bowel movements, for example – even if you’re in there for a diabetes check up, or something seemingly unrelated.
6. Don’t suffer in silence. If the medicine you’ve been prescribed has side effects, discuss them with your pharmacist and your doctor. There are many medication options today, so find the one that’s right for you. Also, often seniors are on older medications. Ask your doctor what’s new on the market since you were originally prescribed, and if there is something better out there.
7. Speak up. If you get to the pharmacy and the pills they give you are a different color or shape than the ones you’ve been accustomed to taking, raise the issue. It could be that the wrong prescription was inadvertently called in and these new pills are double the old dosage. Speaking up could avoid a costly and life threatening medical mistake.
If you don’t feel right about something, ask. It’s ok to ask for another mammogram in six months, instead of twelve, if you’re not feeling right about the results. Or if you went in complaining about back pain, but the doctor didn’t order an x-ray, ask him/her about that. That way the doctor can explain the reasons, and you’ll leave satisfied.
8. Befriend the office staff. Build a relationship with your doctor’s receptionist or nurse. They can be a wealth of information and can also help you navigate the system, such as getting appointments with hard-to-see doctors, or getting you an appointment sooner than you’d be able to by calling yourself. Often there’s an unpublished ‘back’ phone number that they can give you, so that you can bypass the voice mail system and get through to the doctor. The nurse is also a great resource for discussing clinical issues and concerns. The nurse can quickly get the doctor’s attention, if needed, for your concern.
So speak up! Take control of your healthcare. Persistent and engaged (but respectful) patients get the health care they need and deserve.