Manage Your Care
Having married a physician, most of my daily conversations revolve around the topic of medicine. It’s not a terrible set-up, as healthcare is a major component of our lives. There are plenty of interesting issues to discuss, questions to ponder, and scenarios to explore. A fascinating aspect of healthcare today is the pedestal that we as patients put our physicians on. Instead of being trusted counselors, they become the proverbial Catholic elementary school principal, waiting to rap us on the knuckles for being overweight, having a poor diet, and failing to manage our conditions appropriately. They speak in technical terms and prescribe interventions and treatment courses that we do not fully understand, and we fail to ask a single intelligent question. The fact remains that the patient has a great deal of control in the management of their care, if only they’d take advantage.
Nearly all recommendations made by physicians are completely voluntary, except where mandated by law. Hospitals are not prisons, and while leaving against medical advice may result in your insurance sticking you with the entire bill for your care, you still have the right to leave at any time, for any reason. Patients tend to not challenge anything their physicians say, and that can be dangerous, especially in a fragmented care system with incompatible record keeping systems, and a complex network of sub-specialists managing various conditions.
The first step in taking charge is to use the power of the question. Physicians are trained to communicate precisely with their colleagues, which is why medical terminology is so complex and detailed. They, like any other professional group, must be able to communicate succinctly with one another in order to answer medical questions. This is especially important in emergent situations. Consequently, physicians are seldom taught to communicate clearly with their patient. Translating medical terminology into the vernacular is as difficult as any other type of language translation. This is where patient questions factor into the equation. By asking clarifying questions until you are satisfied, you will not appear unintelligent, but rather you’ll gain their respect. Physicians love when their patients are actively involved because you become a partner to success, not a roadblock. Your physician is focused on your care and appropriately managing your case. Therefore, in order to fully understand the plan and to appropriately set expectations, you must ask questions.
The next step is to stop using the Internet for your medical questions. You and your insurance company compensate your providers handsomely for their wealth of knowledge, their clinical correlation of your conditions, and for the development of a highly individualized treatment plan. If you have a question, or would like other treatment plans, ask the professional whom you are paying. Medicine is an art, not a science, so odds are you receiving poor quality information from Dr. Google. That’s not to say that the information is totally wrong, it simply may be outdated and it doesn’t take into account your personalized history. Formulate your questions in advance of your appointment and don’t let the appointment end until you understand the plan and your role in it.
The final, and perhaps the most important step in managing your healthcare, is to speak up when something doesn’t sound right. Physicians can routinely see over 20 patients a day in some settings, so it’s possible that they might be confusing you with someone else. Pay close attention to the plan that’s been set in motion, and when something happens that deviates from that plan, say something. Accidents in healthcare can easily become deadly. Not even highly educated professionals or institutional safety programs can eliminate human error. The patient can help prevent devastating errors.
Healthcare is a partnership between you and the health professionals that you hire to help you have a better quality of life. Only work with the best professionals available, ask lots of questions, and never be afraid to ask for a second opinion.