Be Your Own Health Advocate
Change from passive patient to an active advocate for your own health care.
How to Pick Your Health Care Team
An actively involved patient knows what he or she expects from a doctor.
Everyone should expect to be taken seriously and treated with respect, Gruman
says. Accept nothing less.
Beyond that, people's expectations vary greatly. The kind of relationship
you want to have with a doctor may depend not only on your personal
preferences, but also the reason why you need medical care.
"If you're just trying out a new primary care doctor, that's a very
different kind of relationship-building experience than if you were just
referred to an oncologist because you have a very bad case of pancreatic cancer," Gruman says.
In the first instance, there's plenty of time to evaluate the relationship.
In the other, things have to click immediately.
How many doctors are involved in your care is another worthy consideration.
Seeing too many doctors can sometimes cause unnecessary hassle and costs for
patients, and can contribute to errors.
"I think patients benefit from having one main doctor," Alexander
Your primary doctor should orchestrate your care -- or at least be kept in
the loop about care you get from specialists. There are always exceptions, but
as a general rule, it's best not to crowd your health care roster with
specialists. Not all arthritis pain needs to
be treated by a rheumatologist, for example.
Specialists can play an invaluable role in diagnosing a condition and
deciding the best course of treatment, but eventually they may be no longer
needed. At some point, a primary-care doctor may be able to take over.
"Don't be afraid to terminate a relationship with a specialist if they're
no longer really important," Alexander says.
Can You Stand Up to Your MD?
The things that will make you an active advocate for your health care are
simple, but not easy for everyone to do. The doctor's role as an authority
figure is still deeply ingrained in the culture.
Do you follow doctor's orders, or do you participate in shared medical
decision-making? The latter sounds better, but when you are in the room, with
the paper on the exam table crinkling under your bare bottom, you may not feel
"What we're doing is fundamentally challenging a lot of patients' basic
notions of what the doctor's and the patient's roles are," Haidet says.
"That's a huge bar for patients to leap over."