Ten Ways To Actively Participate In Your Medical Care

Though we hold doctors, physicians assistants, nurses, and technicians in high regard for their expertise, and for doing their utmost to save lives, we should not underestimate the need to be proactive in our healthcare.

Ten years ago, an optimal primary-care visit was found to last only 16 minutes on average, and experience tells us that today we are fortunate to get 16 minutes of face time with a physician.

It seems fair to assume many doctors like this time-crunch as little as patients do, yet the situation is unlikely to change any time soon.

Ten Ways To Actively Participate

Partly because doctor visits are time-limited, many patients are becoming more active in their own healthcare, or are becoming medical advocates for a relative or friend, particularly older individuals. We can, for instance:

  1. Educate ourselves about diabetes, or other illnesses so we can make informed decisions, communicate our questions and concerns effectively, and be better observers of our symptoms, and treatment progress.
  2. Talk to others having the same illness we do, to share experiences, and resources. We can speak with them while sitting in waiting rooms, or join online and in-person support groups.
  3. Keep a log or journal of doctor visits, and treatment changes, progress, setbacks, or concerns.
  4. Get emotional support from a friend, relative, spiritual advisor, or a professional counselor—someone who is willing to listen, and empathize. Also, much as possible, we should maintain our normal life activities and friendships.
  5. Make an effort to establish a personal connection with an individual who is part of our health care team. This might be a nurse, a physician’s assistant, or even the doctor’s or department’s receptionist. The connection will ideally be related to children, pets, or personal interests, not just the illness.
  6. Ask for more information when we need it, including why a certain test, medication, or therapy is recommended.
  7. Let our doctor or other professional know when what is being done or recommended is outside our comfort zone, or goes against our intuition. Maybe we need more information, or more time to process the situation, or our options.
  8. Always speak up if we suspect something isn’t right, such as the medication we are being given. Medical errors lead to an estimated 440,000 deaths annually in U.S. hospitals. Since medical mistakes are frequently caused by lack of communication, remaining silent if we suspect a problem doesn’t make sense.
  9. Advocate effectively for ourselves or others by communicating our questions, concerns, and ideas respectfully. We see medical professionals to benefit from their expertise, and experience. Challenging their competency because of something we read on the Internet is counterproductive.
  10. Give the medical team our gratitude, and when it’s called for, our praise.

There may someday be professionally trained advocates to help patients navigate our increasingly complex, confusing, and often risky healthcare system. Meanwhile, it’s up to each of us to be observant, informed, and assertive enough to safeguard our own, or a loved one’s well-being.

Source: Deepak Chopra, M.D., Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D. / Chopra Center
Photo credit: Elaine Smith

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