It is a well-documented fact that patients who advocate for themselves, who question their doctors, and who get a second opinion when necessary receive better medical care than patients who follow doctor’s orders without question. Being your own medical advocate is a good way to prevent taking the wrong dose of a medicine, a good way to detect otherwise hidden illnesses, and an excellent tool for avoiding medical errors. However, many of us have been trained to accept a doctor’s word as the final word and avoid asking questions. Moreover, in a fast-paced world where doctors are rushed for time, concerned about medical malpractice, and pressured by insurance companies, it can be a challenge to find a responsive doctor. Nothing is more important than your health, though, and it is worth taking a few extra minutes to ensure you get the best care possible. Here’s how to do it:
Doctors Are Human
Remember that doctors are human, and just like people in any other profession, they can overlook things. Moreover, there are very few things about which there is unanimity of opinion in the medical community. Doctors have different approaches to treatment, different beliefs about vitamins and chiropractic, different levels of competency with nutrition and lifestyle-based care, etc. So if a doctor makes a pronouncement as if it is the absolute truth, you should generally question this. The more salient point here, though, is that doctors should allow their patients to treat them like humans and encourage questions. If your doctor won’t explain something or does not encourage questions, it’s time to find someone else.
Share Your Medical History
Doctors are not mind readers and cannot make a good diagnosis without a full understanding of your medical history. Make sure your doctor knows all drugs you are taking, including over the counter drugs and illegal drugs. Something as simple as ibuprofen can fatally interact with some drugs, and your doctor cannot prevent this if she doesn’t know what you’re taking. Similarly, your doctor needs to know all symptoms you are having, not just the ones you think are relevant. That headache may seem irrelevant to, say, a bladder infection, but it could be a sign of some other problem. Aim to convey as much information as possible to your doctor.
Do Your Own Research
Researching medical problems on the internet can get people into trouble if they become convinced that they can diagnose themselves. However, knowing the basics of your condition or common causes of your symptoms can help you to ask the right questions.
Ask About Side Effects
It is vitally important that you ask about the side effects of any and all medications you are prescribed. This way you’ll recognize a side effect if it occurs and also be able to give your doctor a good idea of whether or not you are comfortable with a particular side effect. If your doctor brushes of your question by saying there are no side effects, find another doctor, because all drugs can have side effects and it’s your right as a patient to be fully informed.
Ask About Alternative Treatments
Most conditions can be treated with several different drugs, so ask about what drug options are available to you, and ask about why your doctor has chosen to prescribe this particular drug.
Talk About Lifestyle Issues
The things we do affect our health. Stress, smoking, relationship issues, and what we eat can all have profound impacts on our well being, and in order to be a good medical advocate for yourself, you need to share with your doctor relevant information about your lifestyle. This can become particularly important if you may have an allergy, a stress-exacerbated illness, or if you are being harmed by an environmental danger.
It can be hard to get a few extra minutes to talk about medical issues with your doctor, and it is easy to feel intimidated by a doctor’s considerable medical knowledge. However, a doctor is your employee; you are paying them to provide you the best care possible, and you therefore owe it to yourself to make sure you are advocating for yourself in the best way possible.