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It is time to take responsibility.

You’ve heard the stories before. Someone received a diagnosis that threw them into the depths of the healthcare system and they got lost: someone didn’t follow up like expected, a test result wasn’t communicated, a diagnostic was delayed. The individual ended up feeling jaded, jipped and uncertain of how to move forward. Unfortunately our system for medical care is overloaded. When we combine that with the reality of system unawareness in the general public AND that many people approach health care as a pure consumer experience, we have a problem. Health professionals used to be able to walk with patients through every step of their medical process, regardless of whether that was just annual checkups or a lengthy cancer battle. But nowadays the ability to hand hold patients through any experience has become difficult. Don’t misread me: they WANT to help guide you but they are far outnumbered and only have so many hours in a day. That means it is time to take some responsibility. It’s time to partner WITH your medical professionals for your care.

But … how do you do that?!

1. Ask good questions. When you encounter a medical professional for any concern you need to ask solid questions. This is not to question the doctor’s judgement or knowledge but rather to increase your understanding of the situation and your overall health. You are the only person that has been present for all of your appointments and procedures. You are also the one who knows your priorities and values better than anyone else. So you are the best qualified to be educated about your health. You understanding your health will help you to have productive interactions with the system. Questions to ask:

What test(s) are you ordering? Why are you ordering them? What will the results tell us? What will different results mean for treatment options? Is there another way to diagnosis the problem? What is the cost? How long will it take to get the results?

What is the medication for? How do I take the medication? What happens if I miss a dose of the medication? What will likely happen if I don’t take the mediation? Does this medication interact with the other pills I currently take? What are common side effects of the drug/treatment and are there ways to decrease those side effects?

Is this condition permanent or temporary? Was there something specific that caused it? Is there somewhere on-line I can learn more?

2. Know your results. When a physician orders diagnostics (labs, x-rays, scans, tests) - always follow up. Always. There is merit in waiting a couple of days (7-10 days if it involves a biopsy or specialty test of any kind) for the doctor to call. However, if it has been longer than that - you call them. Write down what exactly was tested and the results. If they say it was “a little off” ask for specifics. It may seem like a moot point but knowing what was slightly askew and by how much is helpful in a lot of cases. That said: slightly “off” results don’t usually constitute an emergency. While being informed is so helpful for good conversations and interactions within the healthcare world, you need to trust the wisdom of your doctors when they advise about those nuanced results. A side note: in an effort to have patients be more informed, many hospitals are utilizing on-line patient portals. If you can get comfortable with your on-line portal it will make knowing your results a snap.

3. Make a plan. When your doctor advises treatments and tests it is extremely important to understand the plan and expectations behind the guidance. Essentially you need to understand the timeline for different events moving forward.

Did your doctor start you on a new medicine? Ask how long you need to take it before you’ll see a difference and how you will decide if it is making a difference. Will you need additional lab tests or will it just depend on whether or not your symptoms get better. Ask if there are any situations where you should stop taking the medicine.

Did your doctor prescribe a diagnostic test? Ask what the next steps will be when the results are in. Does s/he want you to come back in to their office to discuss options? Does s/he want you to meet with a specialist about the results? Within what timeframe should you see someone about deciding the next steps? Are the tests just routine to monitor your health trends?

Will certain results dictate a procedure or further testing? By when should that be accomplished?

4. Know the power of a phone call. Have unanswered questions? Thought of a concern that needs to be addressed? Can’t get your test scheduled in a timely fashion? The specialist hasn’t called to schedule an appointment yet? Concerned about a result? Make a phone call. You won’t interrupt your provider because your call will likely go to an assistant who can look into the matter or it will get sent to your doctor via secure messaging so that they can respond at a convenient time in their day. Calling can alert the office to an issue. Or calling can just be a way to assure you that things are progressing as they should. Calling can also be a catalyst for the next step of your health journey.

Many people are resigned to just wandering the bowels of the healthcare system hoping someone will find them and point them in the right direction. But you can be different. You can get involved by asking good questions, knowing your results, making a plan with your provider, and using phone calls to navigate the system intelligently. You can partner WITH your provider. You can take some responsibility for your own journey and help ensure the best outcomes with willing help from your healthcare team.


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