Many patients are nervous about asking questions of their doctors, afraid of being labeled as ‘difficult’ or taking up too much of their provider’s time. Patients resist speaking up, according to a new Health Affairs study.
I [Martine Ehrenclou] interviewed several health psychologists for my new book, The Take-Charge Patient: How You Can Get the Best Medical Care to find out why patients tend to be submissive and timid with their doctors. Several explained that patients tend to relate to their doctors as they do to authority figures in their lives, which directly relates to the power imbalance. Others mentioned that patient’s health worries influence their confidence when interacting with providers. Increasing confidence as a patient will help you interact more effectively and maximize your engagement in your health care.
Consider your own vulnerability when you don’t feel well and you see your doctor for a medical visit, especially if the doctor is rushed and moves quickly to assess your symptoms and arrive at a diagnosis. You are dependent on your doctor’s expertise and good will, his or her ability to diagnose you correctly and provide a treatment plan that works for you.
Following are a number of strategies that will help reduce your anxiety and increase your participation in care.
- Find a doctor who welcomes your participation. Look for a physician who accepts and welcomes your questions. Good communication is essential for a successful relationship with your doctor. Good doctors are good communicators and listeners. If you feel that your doctor does not value your contribution and isn’t really listening to you, walk away.
- Prepare ahead of time before your medical appointment. List your top three medical concerns and create a list of questions for your doctor. If you are prepared for your office visit, you’ll feel less anxious and more able to ask questions. Also create a list of your current medications and their dosages, over-the-counter medications, herbs and supplements, and allergies to medications. Bring it with you to every doctor/medical office visit. In addition, create a brief health summary about how you have been feeling and list any changes in your health, changes in medications, other physicians you’ve seen and for which medical reasons.
- Create a simple health history of major medical events over your lifetime such as births, surgeries, procedures, major tests and current medical diagnoses. This allows a new doctor to see a snapshot of what you’ve been through. By creating this, it also increases your familiarity with what you’ve experienced, which in turn increases your confidence.
- Create a symptom diary. For a week or two before you see your doctor, take note of any symptoms you want addressed by your physician such as when they started, what makes them worse or better and the time of day they occur. This will help facilitate an accurate diagnosis and you’ll present as a patient invested in your health who values the time spent with the medical provider. This also familiarizes you with your symptoms over a period of time and increases your confidence so you can discuss them with your doctor.
- Obtain copies of your medical records from your doctor(s) over the last five years. This includes copies of pertinent test results and reports, MRIs, CT scans etc. Place them in a health file. This allows you control over your own medical records and gives you the freedom to bring copies of pertinent test results or reports to a medical provider, instead of relying on a doctor’s office or imaging center to do this for you. The latter may not happen in a timely manner or at all.
- Do a little research. If a medical professional has given you a diagnosis and/or treatment plan, do some research from credible resources such as academic, government or professional medical society/academy websites. These end in .gov, .edu, and .org. Doing research on your own gets you more informed so you can evaluate what is best for you. It empowers and prepares you to ask questions of your doctor.
- This is your time with the doctor. Remember, this is your office visit and you are paying for it. Many patients are fearful of using up too much of the doctor’s time and resist asking important questions. This backfires for the patient and the doctor.
Most importantly, be assertive!
By: Martine Ehrenclou, M.A., is an award-winning author, patient advocate and speaker. Her newest health book, The Take-Charge Patient: How You Can Get The Best Medical Care, winner of sixteen book awards, empowers readers to become proactive and effective participants in their own health care. You can find out more about her and her book by visiting www.thetakechargepatient.com.