Sunday, November 21, 2010

Becoming a Patient Advocate for Yourself

The STAT blog recently sat down with Genevieve T of to talk about patient advocacy and how you can advocate for you own best care. She shares with us 9 great strategies to keep in mind and how you can stay on top of your own healthcare.
  1. Don’t Freak Out. Many times doctors order tests to rule out possibilities. Just because your doctor ordered a test that may indicate disease does not mean you have it. Wait until the results are in and you have discussed your options with your doctor.
  1. Seek out reliable, credible information. If you choose to research your symptoms or diagnosis online, make sure it is from a credible source. There are many websites online claiming expert knowledge on medical information. Scrutinize where each site gets its information from. Credible resources include:
Database of medical research documents: PubMed
Other websites that may offer credible information are national foundations of specific diseases. For instance, the American Diabetes Association provides excellent information on Diabetes prevention, diagnosis, management and care.
  1. Make sure you and your doctor are on the same page. Do you have a productive, open line of communication with your doctor? Are you able to ask your doctor questions? Do you both have the same goals for your health and treatments? If you find 
    yourself answering no to any of these questions, you may want to bring up your concerns with your doctor in order to open up a new line of communication.
  1. Not all doctor-patient relationships are compatible, and that’s okay to admit. Do not limit yourself to one doctor alone. It may be possible that there is another doctor you would be more compatible with. You shouldn’t continue seeing a doctor you are not satisfied with merely out of guilt. If you switch doctors you shouldn’t feel like you are “cheating” on your old doctor.
  1. Doctors are human beings too. Doctors are constantly learning on a daily basis, even if they’ve been practicing medicine for over twenty years. And even the best doctors sometimes make mistakes. They work extremely long hours and see many patients each week. Bottom line: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. If you continue to feel ill, follow up with your doctor until your questions and concerns are answered and resolved.
  1. Keep track of your health. Often times we have address books to keep track of important addresses, calendars to keep track of business meetings, family events, and soccer games, diaries or journals describing daily happenings, and To-Do lists to remind ourselves of the next thing to take care of. What if you kept track of your body the same way you do the rest of your life? While EHRs can certainly help you do this, it is important to listen to your body, notice changes, and write down symptoms when they occur so that when you talk with your doctor next visit you will remember what happened and when. Your doctor can only be as good as the information you provide him or her.
  1. Know that your doctor is not a magician. Make sure you take care of yourself and follow treatment plans. Your doctor cannot help you if you cannot help yourself. There is no magic wand your doctor can wave over you next visit to resolve all the damage you’ve caused to your body when you did not follow treatments prescribed. And there is no magic pill you can take to fix yourself overnight. Good health is a life long job and you must take responsibility do to your part to keep that job going for as long as you can.
  1. Look into having a support system. Many times support groups online can be an invaluable way to relieve stress by venting to those who most understand your situation, while also swapping ideas and information with fellow patients. Also, discuss your situation with your friends, family, doctor, and pharmacy. Are there times in which you will need rides to medical procedures? Do your friends and family know what needs to be done if your health problem should present an emergency situation? Do you need a medic alert bracelet in case you were to have a health emergency around strangers? Do you have a number on hand you can call if you have questions about your prescriptions? Even if you don’t think you have a serious health problem, do you know where the closest hospital is?
  1. What is your goal next visit? Do you know what you hope to accomplish at your next doctor’s visit? Is it a simple annual physical? Is this a follow up visit to a recent emergency health event? Do you have new information to give your doctor regarding family health history? Are you trying to find an explanation for a recent cough or pain? Is the medication you’re taking not working to meet your needs? Do you have questions or concerns? What is on your mind exactly? Make sure you are very clear about this before you go to your next doctor’s visit. If possible jot down any questions, concerns, or new information you may have and take that with you to your appointment.

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