Despite working on leaving behind our paternalistic past, some of the things that are hardest to change in healthcare pertain to how patients are supposed to act.
I’m here to tell you as a fellow patient and health activist: It’s okay to break these seemingly-unchanging rules.
1. Don’t question.
There is an epidemic among patients, something that we have the power to attack and change – silence.
Many patients, yours truly occasionally included, struggle with the ability to speak up to someone who seems to be more educated on medical issues than ourselves.
We have to start remembering, though, that we are experts in our bodies and our illnesses. Even if you don’t know the mechanisms behind what your illness entails, you know something that your physicians don’t – how your illness truly affects your quality of life.
It’s time that we start speaking up when we have a difference of opinion in the physician’s office.
2. Remember that the physician knows much more than you.
In order to fight rule one, we have to start learning about the mechanisms, medications, and complications associated with our illnesses.
If you have the ability to, head to a library and pick up (legitimate) books on your illnesses. Go to the nearest medical school or contact a provider/professor there to ask about learning more. Get in touch with non-profit organizations to learn what resources and information they can offer to help you in your journey.
We have to become our own advocates in order to get the care we deserve.
3. Don’t bring in outside information.
Many physicians are busy and may sneer at the idea of a patient bringing in materials for them to look over. Others won’t look at information such as sleep or fitness trackers.
Some even refuse to look at pictures or other visual documentation of an illness.
Frankly, that is a load of BS.
If the goal is to help a patient, physicians should be willing to look at this information. Do not hesitate to bring it in and request that they look over it – even if it is later in their day after you’ve left. Follow up via email or your Electronic Medical Record (EMR) portal.
Just remember that they may not take it well.
Without documentation of my rashes as a child, we may not have found out that I had SJIA instead of leukemia. This effort can literally save lives.
4. Be polite no matter what.
It’s common in our society to ask how someone is and, when they ask you back, to respond in a polite manner something along the lines of “doing well, thanks.”
This is something we have to unlearn when it comes to the medical world.
Should you be respectful? Absolutely. Polite responses such as this, though, will often lead to physicians not believing fully what you’re describing.
Smiling apparently does, too, according to one of my former PCPs.
5. Keep non-medical or sensitive issues private.
It’s a common thing to think that physicians have no interest in what your life outside of your medical issues is.
The reality is that many physicians take that mindset.
However, it’s important for physicians to know when things in your home and/or work life are changing.
If you’re having an issue sexually, for example, this could be a sign of heart disease or other important health issues. The stress of planning a wedding, moving, or trying to get pregnant can cause additional issues.
In order to treat us as whole people, physicians need to hear what our lives are fully like. Is that easy in a 10-minute appointment? Nope. But you have the right to get your questions addressed and answered.
What would you add to this list?