Is there such a thing as a “good patient?”
Absolutely… a good patient is one who partners with doctors and other medical professionals, taking a proactive role rather than a passive or adversarial role.
The doctor-patient relationship is the cornerstone of patient-centered, compassionate medicine, but only if both doctors and patients take responsibility for their respective roles.
Five Ways to Partner with Your Doctor… and Take Charge of Your Health
1. Be Prepared
- Bring a list of the names and dosages of all medications you are currently taking, including over-the-counter medicines and nutritional supplements.
- If you’ve been having symptoms for a long period of time, it might also help to bring a list of symptoms and dates.
- If you have concerns about understanding or remembering details of the visit, bring a family member, friend, or interpreter with you. Take notes.
- If this is a new doctor, bring copies of medical records, or have previous doctors forward the information prior to your visit.
2. Clearly State the Reason for your Visit
Make good use of your time by communicating all your concerns. If this is more than a general physical, make sure you say so in advance. Don’t leave out important details in the hope that your doctor will figure it out.
3. Be Honest
It’s embarrassing to admit our shortcomings, but this is no time to be shy.
- If you’re a smoker, admit it. Be honest about what you eat and drink, as well as your exercise habits. If you haven’t been taking your medication, say so. Major decisions about your health rest upon your complete honesty.
- Don’t forget to mention any complementary medicines or therapies you may use.
- If you have no intention of following the doctor’s instructions, say so up front so alternatives can be decided upon.
4. Ask Questions
Don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions!
- If you’ve been given a prescription, ask about potential side effects or drug interactions… and if there are alternatives to taking the prescribed medication.
- If additional medical tests are ordered, make sure you understand why, if there are any alternatives, and what the doctor expects to learn. Ask how and when you will receive results of these tests. Don’t go along with the “no news is good news” theory. If you do not receive test results in a timely manner, make the call yourself.
- If a surgical procedure is suggested, make sure you understand the potential benefits, risks, or alternatives.
- If you have a chronic illness, ask when you should make your next appointment and learn the warning signs that would require immediate care.
5. Be Active, Not Passive
You needn’t wait for your doctor to mention something that’s important to you. It’s your health and you will do better with treatment if you are a partner in your own care. Nobody understands your body, your mind, your life the way you do.
- If you believe you need a second opinion, don’t be afraid to get one.
- If you think an alternate treatment might be available, ask about it.
- If you have been diagnosed with a medical condition, do additional research on your own. When searching for health information online, consider the source. Look at the address in your web browser and make sure it is a reputable person or institution. Use the web to create a list of questions to ask your doctor.
- Understand the difference between physician-provided information and patient-provided information. Other patients can give you a point of view that your doctor probably cannot. This can be extremely valuable, although not a substitute for medical care.
If your doctor does not treat you with respect or discourages your active role, it’s time to find a new doctor who believes in patient-centered, compassionate care.