In today’s healthcare world, you and your doctor are teammates.
For the most part, your doctor is no longer your care director; today your doctor is more like your teammate in a relationship of communication, a partner to help you make the best healthcare decisions for you.
Always write down any questions before you visit your doctor. Always take a list of medications you’re taking with you. The list should include over-the-counter medications and supplements you may be taking. Questions you might need to ask:
- Will I need to take medicine?
- Will I get better without treatment?
- Do I have other choices for treatment?
- What does this drug do? How should I use it? How long should I use it?
- What are the benefits and side effects of this treatment?
- What can I do to avoid side effects?
- Can I take this medicine with the other drugs?
- When should I stop taking this drug?
- What happens if I forget to take this medicine?
- What else can I do to get better?
When you visit your doctor, make sure to ask the questions you wrote down beforehand. Your doctor won’t be put off by your questions. Your questions may make your doctor’s job easier.
Write down your doctor’s answers. You can also take a caregiver, family member, or friend with you to help ask questions and keep track of answers.
If your doctor prescribes a specific treatment, test, or procedure, always ask why and what the doctor’s goal is. Ask about the benefits and harms of any treatment. Make sure the test, procedure, or treatment is absolutely necessary. Don’t assume the result of research for a specific treatment will help you. Some medications help some people while not helping others. Some treatments are meant for high-risk people but not for low-risk people.
Make sure you understand everything your doctor tells you. If you don’t, ask the doctor to explain something until you do understand.
If your doctor sends you to a specialist, it will often be someone your doctor knows. You’ll need to find out if that specialist is in your network before scheduling a visit. If the specialist is outside your network, you’ll need to discuss this with your doctor; seeing an out-of-network specialist may cost you more money, depending on your health insurance coverage. (It’s probably a good idea to keep a list of specialists in your network to which your doctor can refer you). Your doctor’s office can find out from your insurance company if you need prior authorization to see the specialist or have a test or procedure.
Be your own patient advocate. Remember that you can always ask your doctor to suggest another doctor who can give you a second opinion. Don’t be worried; your doctor shouldn’t be offended that you’re trying to get the best care for you. If your doctor is offended, you need to find a new doctor.
A doctor who is good at helping patients make decisions will use the best research evidence, share that evidence with you, and help you understand it, while encouraging you to say what matters to you. Your doctor wants to help you; it’s in your doctor’s interest to help you with your health problem because you’ll continue to be a patient after you get better.
You may be able to help your doctor if you sign up for an electronic health record (EHR), to store all of your medical information, including your medical history, your family medical history, a history of your medications, lab and other test results, procedures or surgeries, and any health data you may be tracking (particularly if you have a chronic disease like diabetes or heart problems). If you have a smartphone connected to your EHR, all the better. Make sure your doctor has access to your EHR, to add any new information to your medical records. In most cases, you can affiliate with a hospital near you and share your EHR with your healthcare team there. Having healthcare providers who know you and your medical history helps you get better care.
You play a huge role in helping your doctor help you. That means it’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions and suggestions. If your doctor gives you medicine to take at certain times for a certain length of time (or until further notice), it’s important for you to do what the doctor asks. If your doctor suggests you’ll be healthier if you quit smoking, lose weight, start eating better, and exercise, again: it’s important for you to do what your doctor suggests. If you have trouble taking your medicines as directed or following the advice of your doctor, talk to your doctor. Your doctr can suggest alternatives that can help you reach your health goal. Never be too embarrassed to ask your doctor a question, or let your doctor know what’s on your mind.
Taking an active role in your healthcare puts the responsibility of your health on both you and your doctor. That’s a good thing: Think two heads are better than one.
February 24, 2020
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA