There has been a steady push in the medical field over recent years towards increased patient empowerment. The status of doctor as “God” or all-knowing is falling out of favor for a more balanced approach where patient and doctor are equal partners on a journey towards health and healing. Successfully navigating our modern medical system requires being your own patient advocate. By being actively involved in your healthcare, you not only gain a greater sense of control, but also an increased confidence over your decisions, greater medical literacy, better treatment adherence, and even better health outcomes.
To become your own patient advocate, consider the following guidelines:
IS THIS DOCTOR THE RIGHT FIT?: A skilled physician with a great reputation may not be a good match for you just as you may not have enjoyed a teacher who everyone else thought was great. Ask yourself:
SPEAK YOUR MIND: Often times, patients don’t feel worthy of taking up a doctor’s time or are afraid to honestly voice their thoughts and concerns. Instead:
MAINTAIN YOUR OWN RECORDS: One of the most significant costs in our healthcare system is repeating labs and imaging that have already been done. Furthermore, having your records on hand to present to a new doctor can mean the difference between immediate action and waiting to collect data. Keep your own records and ask for copies of reports and lab work after each visit.
COMMUNICATE YOUR CONCERNS AND DESIRES: If there is information you possess or decisions or preferences that will affect your course of action, be upfront about these with your doctor. For example, if you have financial considerations that will prevent you from choosing a course of treatment, state this upfront. Or if you know you would favor an alternative, natural or complementary approach to a conventional one, let your doctor know. Sometimes our preferences naturally change, however, sometimes the pressure of doctors can unnaturally sway our opinion.
KNOWN WHEN TO RESPECT AND WHEN TO QUESTION YOUR DOCTOR’S OPINION: Whether it be your primary care physician, an experienced acupuncturist or a naturopathic doctor, if you’re unsure whether to trust your physician’s opinion, consult a third party who has a vested interest in you but not a financial stake in your choices. For example, I have many patients consult me when trying to decide between different (and often costly) fertility options for an unbiased opinion. On the other hand, if you doctor is reinforcing the idea that he or she does not think you’re a good candidate for a given procedure, consider that your doctor may have your best interest in mind, wishing to save you both time and money. Sometimes we want something to work out so badly that hearing the sad truth that it may not succeed can be devastating. However, accepting this and looking to the new option can provide a door of possibility that may previously have been closed.
Dr. Elizabeth Winter practices integrative and functional medicine in San Diego, CA and sees patients from a distance via Skype. For more information about her and her practice philosophy visit About Dr. Winter.