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One of the biggest complaints about the medical profession is: “My doctor doesn’t spend enough time with me.” Or “My doctor never listens to me.” Doctors don’t even communicate with one another as they should, often failing to relay reports of diagnostic studies to one another or consider each others orders and prescriptions when managing medications or giving advice. “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Why has this breakdown in communication occurred? How do you protect yourself from doctors who won’t take the time to communicate with you and one another?
In the old days of house calls and family doctors who owned their own medical practices and provided care for friends and neighbors, people looked upon their physicians as authority figures. People did not question their doctor’s methods, diagnoses or prescribed treatments. They simply did as they were told, and they were certain they could trust their doctor to tell them what they needed to know and do what needed to be done. The advent of managed care by insurance companies, along with the growing trend of clinics and health care centers owned by business men and operated by health care administrators, rather than doctors, has brought that relationship to an end today. A growing number of doctors don’t even own their own practices or clinics anymore and are pressured to see as many patients in a given day as possible. Most doctors don’t want to spend any more time with each patient than they absolutely have to, and they don’t build a good relationship. One could even say, many don’t care anymore. When they don’t care, they don’t communicate. But all is not lost. You have the ability to encourage old fashioned communication with your doctor in spite of all these obstacles. How?
With the arrival of the internet and ready access to websites like WebMD, our resources to communicate with our healthcare providers has evolved. With unlimited medical information at our fingertips, we now have the opportunity to research our own symptoms, make educated guesses about our conditions and read up on the latest in treatments and medications. As a result, we can go into a healthcare appointment prepared, armed with knowledge and relevant questions.
This ability to prepare – to be informed before we communicate with our physician, rather than just blindly following “doctor’s orders” – is invaluable because the relationship between doctor and patient has changed. Due to managed care and carelessness, doctors don’t spend the time to get to know their patient’s whole story. Even if a patient tries to tell them the whole story, most doctors hear only the main complaint. As a result, doctors fail to consider “smaller” details, which could be equally as important when developing a treatment plan or deciding whether and how to follow up.
To get your doctor to communicate adequately, you have to become an advocate for your own health. You must assert yourself as an active participant in the patient-physician relationship. To be your own best patient advocate, here are some dos and don’ts:
- Come prepared for the appointment. Make a basic list of everything having to do with your health. Include any prescriptions, supplements (i.e. vitamins, botanicals, and probiotics) or herbal remedies you may take and any alternative health-regimens (i.e. acupuncture, meditation, spinal manipulation) you may follow. Don’t leave anything out!
- Insist on telling your whole story. No complaint, discomfort or symptom is too small. No part of your past medical history is unimportant.
- Do not be afraid to ask your doctor what they are thinking or to explain what they are looking for.
- Question the doctor’s decisions. Why did they choose that test or treatment? What other tests or treatments exist?
- If the diagnosis does not make sense to you, ask questions.
A good doctor will appreciate your desire to actively participate in your own healthcare. A good doctor will take the time to listen. A good doctor will take the time to explain. It is, after all, your body. You should be in charge of it. Be an advocate for your own health. Take charge, be prepared and talk to your doc! Don’t let a failure to communicate cost you your health, or even possibly, your life!