Want Better Health Care? Be a Partner, Not a Patient

September 6, 2018
Doctor examining patient's thyroid glands.
The word “patient” comes from a Latin word that means “one who suffers.” This makes sense. We go to the doctor when we’re sick, right? And the doctor gives us the expert advice and care we need to get better.

Once we’re no longer suffering, we might not think too much about our doctor. Which is fine as long as we stay healthy and keep up healthy habits. But once we’re older, or have developed a more serious risk for health problems, the risks of an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude start to add up. It’s heartbreaking to learn of a serious health problem that could be much less serious if only it had been addressed sooner.

With that in mind, here are some tips to help you become more of a partner to your doctor than a patient:

Find a Doctor Who Listens

This tip is tops because none of the other tips will really work if your doctor doesn’t hear what you’re saying—or take your questions seriously. You’ll also want to find a doctor who doesn’t mind accepting your input. Your statement of “I don’t know if I can do that,” or questions like “Are there any other options?” deserve to be taken seriously. If that hasn’t been the case, talk to your doctor about the issue. If they won’t have that talk, maybe it’s time to look for a doctor who will.

Approach Doctor Visits with a Wellness Mindset

If the only thing getting you to the doctor is a broken arm, a sore throat, or a bout of the flu, you’re not going to have a very productive partnership. When you’re sick or in pain, you’re not in the best position to think, ask questions, or absorb information.

More and more, most health insurance covers preventive visits—yearly checkups and the like—at little to no cost. Make sure you’re taking advantage of all the care you’ve got coming to you, and use those more focused visits to find out answers to your health questions and talk to your doctor about any changes they may see coming.

Talk About What You’re Feeling, Not What You Think You Have

This one can be tough, especially for those of us who are super-well-informed about health issues and research. If you’re the type who tries to diagnose yourself online before heading to the doctor, take a step back once you get into the exam room.

Don’t lead with something like, “I’m pretty sure it’s strep.” Tell your doctor when you first started noticing symptoms, how they progressed, and what you’re experiencing now.

Be Honest About What You Don’t Understand

If find yourself thinking things like, “I’ll look it up later,” or “Maybe the pharmacist will tell me what this is for,” it’s time to speak up. Use questions like “Can you tell me more about that?” or just “What is that?” Remember, you’re not supposed to be the expert here. It’s smarter to ask questions about what you don’t know, rather than pretend to know in order to save face.

Make Decisions as a Team

Whenever further care or treatment is called for, whether it’s a test, a referral to a specialist, or a prescription, make sure you’re involved in the decision. You don’t have to play devil’s advocate, but you should play your own advocate. If you’re at all concerned about side-effects, ask about them. If you’re not sure whether a test is necessary, ask your doctor about alternatives. Be honest about your feelings in these situations, as well. Whether you’re concerned about costs, risks, or discomfort, your doctor may be able to help. But they can’t help if they don’t know.

In a partnership, both parties do their share, and both share the benefit. In the partnership between you and your doctor, the benefit is a healthier you!

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