By: Paige Lennox
As a seasoned patient advocate, I understand the importance of communication between doctor and patient. In order to take the best care of ourselves – and get the most out of our healthcare – we need to be active participants in the process. One can only do that by becoming your own patient advocate.
It simply isn’t enough to have a brilliant doctor tell you what to do. You have to be a smart patient and stay well-informed. And if you don’t think you can do it on your own, you need to bring someone along with you to be your second set of eyes and ears.
Think about it this way. Have you experienced any of the following scenarios?
- You leave the doctor’s office unclear about your diagnosis and what’s actually happening inside your body;
- You forget the doctor’s instructions on how to take prescribed medication or how to care for yourself between visits;
- You come up with questions about the visit, only after you’ve left the doctor’s office. And where you’ve prepared questions before the visit, you forgot to ask them or felt uncomfortable doing so during the appointment;
- You aren’t certain whether you’ve explained all your symptoms to the doctor and worry you left something important out that might change the diagnosis;
- You aren’t sure what your next steps are after the appointment.
If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
The typical doctor’s visit is short and involves a lot of talking by the doctor – oftentimes in medical terms, we don’t understand. We are left trying to absorb all the information while dealing with the emotions that come with bad news.
In order to increase the quality and safety of your healthcare, you need to understand exactly what’s going on, what you can expect, and what your next steps are.
To this end, if you are going to be your own health advocate, there are important questions you need answers to. And given the time limitations of every appointment, it’s important to ask the right questions during your visit.
How to be Your Own Patient Advocate: Ask these 5 essential questions to your doctor
#1. What is my main problem?
If you’re being diagnosed with a condition, illness, or disease, ask for its medical name and any other names it may be known as. You should also ask your doctor to explain what’s going on inside your body in non-medical terms that you can understand.
After all, it’s you that is going to have to live with this condition, not the doctor. You need to participate in your own well-being.
During your visit, you’re going to want to cover:
- How serious the condition is;
- What it means in terms of your everyday life and how it will impact you;
- Whether it’s chronic, will worsen over time, or go away with treatment;
- Its causes; and
- Whether it’s contagious
#2. What do I need to do?
During emergency hospital visits and regular doctor appointments, you receive a lot of information regarding the condition, your treatment, self-care, and so forth. You need to understand all discharge and other instructions very clearly. It’s integral to making positive efforts toward wellness – and avoiding serious health consequences.
If your doctor prescribes you medication or treatment, you’ll need to make a decision on whether to take it and, if you decide to do so, how to take it. Be sure to ask:
- How effective is this treatment?
- What are the side effects?
- Are there any interactions? (Bring a written list of your medications, supplements, and vitamins with you to every appointment.)
- How do I take it?
- How long do I need to take it?
- How much will it cost?
- Is it covered by insurance?
- Is generic or any other name brand than what is prescribed okay?
- Are there any alternative treatments that may be safer?
- What are the pros and cons of such alternatives?
- Why do you recommend this particular treatment over others?
- When do I start?
- What if I decide not to take the medication and do nothing?
In order to confirm your diagnosis, your doctor may recommend further testing. Be sure to ask:
- What are the tests you recommend? (Examples include lab tests, x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, spinal taps, etc.)
- What are the tests for?
- Are there risks/side effects to taking these tests?
- How do I schedule and book these tests?
- What will the test results reveal?
- How accurate are the results?
- When and how will I get the results?
- What happens after I get the results?
Depending on the condition being treated, you may require – or benefit from – a specialist. Examples include a physiotherapist, dietician, neurologist, endocrinologist, etc. If your doctor recommends or refers you to someone, be sure to book the appointment as soon as possible. It can take months to secure an appointment with a specialist.
Many of our ailments can be improved with better lifestyle choices. It’s not just about getting the right medicine into your body. Disease usually takes root when multiple factors are at play. Ask your doctor whether he or she has any recommendations with respect to lifestyle factors, including diet, stress management, and exercise.
If there’s something you don’t understand, ask why. Not sure why your doctor wants you to get an MRI? Ask why. Is your doctor changing your medication? Ask why. Are you aware of why you need to take the entire dose of antibiotics, even though you might be feeling better after a day or two? Ask why.
Sometimes doctors don’t explain the importance behind their instructions. The best way to make sure you follow through with them is to know why you need to do so. You see, not following instructions can have far-reaching implications. For example, patients who do not consistently take medication as prescribed – or who do so improperly – increase their risk of hospitalization and death.
#4. What should I expect?
If you’re undergoing treatment, you should understand approximately how long it will take for it to work. If you’re undergoing surgery, you should know how things should feel post-op so you can spot anything that might be off. If you’re waiting on test results, you should know about when you can expect to hear back. This helps you to determine the answer to your next question…
#5. When should I follow up?
When should you next contact the doctor to monitor your progress, get results, determine if the treatment is working, etc.? How long should you wait?
So, how can you remember to ask all these questions?
Seems like a lot to cover in your appointment, doesn’t it? And if you arrive unprepared, I can guarantee you won’t remember to do so. I urge all patients to bring a notebook and pen to every appointment.
You can use this notebook to list all important dates or hospitalizations and your current medications, as well as to store your questions for each visit. It is here that you can document the doctor’s answers and instructions, as well as set out your next steps.
I would also suggest you print out this list that we prepared for our clients. It sets out all the major points you should cover during your visit.
Find Out How Having a Patient Advocate in Your Corner Can Help You
Many of us are not trained to be health advocates and we don’t know how to speak up for ourselves. What’s more, many of us aren’t capable of doing it on our own.
You don’t have to be your own health advocate. You can bring a friend or family member that you trust to your appointment – someone who is reliable and who supports you. You can also consult a professional health advocate.
We have helped countless patients across the nation achieve the most out of their healthcare. Not only do we attend appointments with you, we ask questions on your behalf, help to prevent mistakes, and ensure you understand all care instructions given to you. If you or your loved one needs the assistance of a health advocate, contact us today.