How to Get the Most from Your Care: A Guide for Being a Proactive Patient
- Research, research, research. Research the health concern using reliable print or online sources prior to the doctorâ€™s appointment whenever possible. Contact non-profit organizations or governmental agencies for information or advice on credible resources. (Imaginis provides a list of resources for breast cancer and womenâ€™s health issues at http://www.imaginis.com/breasthealth/menu-resources.asp). Donâ€™t rely on memory on the day of the appointment. Jot down questions and bring reference materials. If unsure of the diagnosis prior to the appointment, try searching by symptoms to get an idea of possible diagnoses. Read about various diagnostic tests and treatments for the condition. An informed patient asks more relevant information and often gets more detailed answers to her questions. After the appointment, performed more detailed research using the information the doctor has provided.
- Try to bring past medical records to a new doctor whenever possible. If diagnostic tests (such as CAT scans, MRIs, mammograms, etc.) were performed, bring a copy of the films.
- Ask questions, questions, and more questions. Being a proactive patient means asking a lot of questions. As described earlier, researching before and after appointments can help patients determine what questions to ask. Here are some suggestions:
- If a medicine is prescribed, try to ask detailed questions about the medicine. For example, ask the name of the medicine, how it works, when and how long to take it, what foods and drinks to avoid, what side effects are possible and if there are ways to deal with those side effects, how to know when the medicine is working or not working, and whether interactions are possible with other prescription or non-prescription drugs.
- If a medical test or procedure is needed, get a full explanation of what will happen. Ask the doctor to explain the procedure from start to finish. Ask why the doctor believes the procedure should be performed, whether it will require a hospital stay (and if so, for how long), what side effects are possible, the estimated length of recovery, what it will feel like after the procedure, whether follow-up care is necessary, when test results will be available, etc. Donâ€™t forget to ask about the doctorâ€™s experience. Ask how many how many of the particular procedure the doctor has performed. The more the better. Ask about the alternatives and pros and cons of any recommended procedure/treatment.
If a doctor won't answer your questions, ask one more: "Where's the door?"
- Always get the test results. Never assume no news is good news. Ask for the results of all medical tests and for an explanation of what the results mean. Before the test, ask when to expect the results. Follow up with the doctorâ€™s office or medical facility if results donâ€™t come when expected.
- Get a second opinion for any major procedure, such as surgery. Patients diagnosed with serious conditions (such as breast cancer) should not hesitate to get a second opinion before beginning treatment. The purpose of a second opinion is to obtain a comprehensive, independent review of the diagnosis and the planned course of treatment. It is essential that patients have confidence in their doctors and treatment teams before proceeding with treatment.
- Follow the doctorâ€™s instructions. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Council on Patient Information and Education, 14% to 21% of patients never even fill their original prescriptions. Many others fail to schedule follow-up appointments in a timely manner or conform to other doctorâ€™s instructions. Patients should never blindly follow advice that makes them uncomfortable. They should ask questions if a doctorâ€™s advice sounds out of the ordinary. If the answers arenâ€™t satisfactory, get a second opinion. However, patients satisfied with their doctorâ€™s answers should adhere to their advice to ensure the best medical care possible.
- Imaginis.com, The Womenâ€™s Health Resource: http://www.imaginis.com
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration: http://www.fda.gov
- The U.S. National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov
- The American Cancer Society: http://www.cancer.org
- The National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE): http://www.talkaboutrx.org/
- American Hospital Association: http://www.hospitalconnect.com/DesktopServlet
- American Medical Association: http://www.ama-assn.org/
- Joint Commission on Accredited Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO): http://www.jcaho.org/
Updated: August 2010