How to be your own best health advocate

Wellness | March 7, 2018
What providers wish you knew, to help them help you

Your doctor is an expert on medical care, but you are the expert on yourself. As an informed, proactive partner with your provider, you can help choose treatment options that best fit your values, beliefs and lifestyle. You also will feel more confident about carrying out the chosen treatment.

What providers wish you knew: first things first

Most providers are tightly regulated in the time they can spend with each patient, and must limit topics discussed. As much as they would like to, very few doctors can spend as much time with patients as they would like.

The words many dread to hear from patients are “While I’ve got you here...” or “One more thing…” from patients with multiple concerns, says David Ruiz, MD, of PeaceHealth Southwest Washington Family Medicine in Vancouver, Washington.

“I encourage patients  to prioritize concerns by making lists," said Dr. Ruiz. "As much as we would like to, we just can’t treat a new problem, review old problems, renew an old prescription, plus test for a driving permit renewal all in one appointment.” If you and your doctor couldn't cover all of the things on your list, plan to schedule a follow-up visit to address the lower-priority concerns.

To make pediatric appointments less stressful, Tracy Schmitz, MD, of PeaceHealth Medical Group Oregon in Eugene also recommends parents discuss the most important concern first.

“Parents can often leave the most important concern for last,” she said. “That can make things stressful for them and for us.”

10 Ways to be an expert partner with your provider:

  1. Make an appointment for one or two concerns only, preferably one. 
  2. Build a relationship. Let your doctor know that you want to be a partner in your health care and share your expectations. Know what you want from the visit, such as a prescription, test or certification.
  3. Be an active participant in each appointment. Be as specific as you can about your concern and please let your provider know if you do not understand explanations or instructions. Doctors make every effort to be accountable and approachable.
  4. Use your patient portal. Before the appointment, you can send specific about your concerns. Providers are looking for duration, location, severity and quality of your symptoms. Sending this information ahead will help assure your provider has the time to address your concerns. After your visit, you can use your portal to review notes from the visit, including vital signs, test results, treatment instructions and so forth. 
  5. Complete helpful forms and checklists before the appointment. This helps you provide correct and complete information, take an active role in your health care decisions, and make the most of your limited appointment time.
  6. Listen carefully to what your provider says. If you do not understand a diagnosis or treatment, ask questions, and speak up if you think that following the prescribed treatment will be hard for you.  It's part of the provider's responsibility to give you an explanation you can understand and a treatment plan you can successfully follow.
  7. Have a family member or friend with you during your appointment, if possible, to take notes, ask questions to clarify information, and help you remember what your provider says.
  8. Ask for instructions. Before you leave the appointment, make sure you know what you are supposed to do to care for yourself. Ask for written information, links to videos and websites, and any other instructions. Ask what the clinic staff can do. Sometimes a prescription can be renewed with a quick phone call or email.
  9. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your clinic if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
  10. Prepare your child for tests and exams. Let your child know why they are seeing a provider and what will be done during the visit. Ask your older child if they would like to speak to the provider alone. Teens may be more willing to talk about topics such as sexuality, mental health, and drugs or alcohol if they know they can have time on their own with their providers.

Check this list of additional tips, plus a quick video and forms you can download to take to your appointments.