Now more than ever, patients have a critical role in advocating for their own healthcare. So it is logical to focus on them, and provide them with the ability to better interact with healthcare providers.
This is especially true now when healthcare provider’s time is so limited, which underscores the need to use that time most efficiently, and effectively.
After forty years of providing direct patient care, it has become abundantly clear to me that patients will get better medical care if they change some of their behaviors by following these three suggestions.
First, and foremost, patients need to calmly and closely listen to and then answer all questions posed by their healthcare providers. The answers should be succinct, “to the point”, and to the best of their ability.
The questions should be easy to understand, and despite their concerns, patients are usually quite good at answering them. Once answered, the patient should stop and wait for the next question, avoiding the tendency to say more. “Let the answer stand on its own”, and allow the provider the opportunity to interpret it. The answer means much more to the provider than patients realize. The question and answer process should be directed by the provider who knows the first best question, and the next best question based on the patient’s answers.
Allowing the process to proceed uninterrupted to its natural conclusion is the most efficient, and effective way to get the necessary deeper understanding of the patient’s story, which in medicine is called the history.
The history is a time line of all relevant events ,and information relevant to the patient’s case. It serves as the basis of all diagnosis, and treatment. The more accurate and complete the history the better the diagnosis, and resultant treatment. Often it takes many questions to complete.
Patients will be asked questions as to whether they have noticed any new or more noticeable changes to their bodies. These changes, “complaints”, or “experiences” are more often felt or sensed by the patient, rather than seen. Examples could be new fevers, chills, or worsening pain anywhere in their body. They might have noted changes in their bodily function, such as more difficulty breathing, urinating, or moving their bowels. As well, these changes may also be seen by the patient, such as a rash, or swelling of some part of their body. In all cases, it is up to the provider to ask these questions given the patient’s complaint, and answers to preceding questions.
Patients need to appreciate that the practice of medicine is not their area of expertise, nor should they act or behave as if it is. Just because they have their own bodies does not mean they know how it works or how to fix it.
It is always best for patient to leave their interpretations, justifications, reasoning, and self-diagnosis,” at the door”, and allow medical providers to lead them through the process. The only “help” the provider needs from the patient is their direct and concise answers to the questions.
Although patients always want to “help”, the additional information they provide is actually very rarely helpful!
It is also important for patients to recognize that all medical practice is now “evidence based”. This means that medical studies have been done over the years to substantiate mostly everything we know, and allows for medical “standards of care” to be practiced.
Medical providers act as the “interface” between all this accumulated medical knowledge and patient care, forming a trusted “partnership” solely for the patient’s benefit. The amount of accumulated medical knowledge is staggering, always evolving, and guides all medical practice.
Secondly, it is always best to prepare for any interview with health care providers. This includes preparing a complete list of any and all “medications” taken. This should be totally inclusive, including every prescription and over the counter substance used. Anything taken by mouth (pills, tablets,liquids), injectables, inhalers(oral and nasal), skin, and eye products need to be reported.
Additionally, patients should prepare a list of any concerns, questions, and needs they may have. This is very helpful and makes the interview more complete. Additionally, by doing so there is no need for patients to worry that they may forget these other issues while their history is being taken. These issues can be addressed after the history is completed, when patients get to ask their questions of the provider. It may be necessary to address some of these at a later date, but at least the health care provider will be made aware of them. Efficiency, completeness, and correctness are always the goals, and allows for a greater likelihood that this will be achieved given the time limits. “Always use the time with the provider to your best advantage”.
Third, patients need to be “keepers of their own castle”, and report any changes to their health “status quo”. Any new, or more noticeable feelings, sensations, changes to body function, or anything seen by the patient must to be reported. Do not wait to report any change that has occurred. It makes no sense worrying about what turns out to be an insignificant change, or delay reporting what might be a very significant problem when time may be critical. A phone call, or message describing the situation using the above recommendations must be done.
Finally, in addition to the three suggestions, it is up to every individual to always strive to live a healthy lifestyle. “It is a battle worth fighting”.
Eating healthy, weight control, exercise, and not smoking or drinking to excess really do add healthy and enjoyable years to people’s lives.
“Regular” visits to health care providers are valuable even when there is no change to status quo. Some significant medical illnesses are “silent”, and some require “preemptive” testing and screening.
The above suggestions will not obviously solve our overall health care dilemma, rather they describe the patient’s responsibilities in interacting with it for their better health care.
Many fixes that are needed to rehabilitate our health care system are under the control of others. However, the system will only begin to do better when each of us does our own part.
Peace and stay safe.