Wednesday, March 22, 2006

How to Deal with Doctors

"How will the M.B.A.'s and the politicians respond to what can only be termed a 'patient-driven revolution'? They will have to cope. I suspect doctors will be thrilled." Dr. Peter Salgo
The Doctor Will See You for Exactly Seven Minutes - New York Times

Health care is a mess. It's expensive. Time consuming. Increasingly depersonalized. We've become numbers, statistics, unwilling participants in assembly line medicine dictated by cost efficiency and bottom lines.

Like it or not, if we're conscientious about our health, most of us will avail ourselves of medical care several times a year. A visit to our primary doctor. Maybe to a specialist. And if we're smart, to a dentist every six months. Women must also see an obstetrician or gynecologist.

As those of us in the Baby Boomer generation reach middle age, the list grows. Rheumatologists, gastroenterologists, cardiologists, orthopods. Too many of us march through their waiting rooms and exam cubicles like automatons, submitting to overlong waits and over-short attention as our doctors rush from one patient to the next.

We entrust our bodies, our well being--potentially our very lives--to medical professionals who barely know us. And rarely take the time to try.

Surprise: it doesn't have to be that way. We have more power than we think. Savvy medical consumers know how to stand out from the crowd. To demand and receive the kind of care we deserve as human beings -- and as paying customers.

Consumerism is the biggest factor people overlook when seeking medical care. We are customers. Doctors are selling us a service. We have the right to expect value for our money. And to go elsewhere if we're not getting it.

It's not difficult, but it takes a serious mind set adjustment. First we have to remember we all have important skills to offer. Our time is just as valuable as a doctor's. Then we have to act on that fact.

We also have to realize that medicine is still a buyer's market. If we don't like the service, we can go elsewhere. Even if you can't or don't want to change doctors, you can retrain yours to be more responsive to you.

Most important, we have to lose our passivity when dealing with medical personnel. We have to participate actively in our own care. Help our doctors become our partners in treating our diseases and improving our well being.

I've had the bad luck to see more than my share of doctors. But the upside is I've learned how to make mine pay attention to me. To help them help me make the most of each visit. And to come away feeling my issues have been addressed, my needs met.

Here are five handy tips from my own experience that result in more thorough medical care and far less frustration and aggravation.

1. Office Politics

Get to know the women at the front desk. Let them know you're willing to wait 30-40 minutes, but will need to reschedule if the wait is longer. Then do it!

Once after waiting an hour without seeing the doctor, I left the exam room, stopped at the front desk and politely asked to reschedule. Voila! The next visit my wait was less than 10 minutes. And it's never been longer than 20 ever since.

2. Call Waiting

Call the office before you leave home or work and ask if the doctor's running on time. Then decide whether to come in later or reschedule.

Most offices prefer not to take the heat from angry patients stacked up in the waiting room. If there's been a delay and I call to remove myself from the schedule, I invariably get my pick for the rescheduled appointment.

3. Paperwork Works

Create a list on your computer of all medications you take, including non-prescriptions. Update it whenever your meds change.

Include any and all drug allergies and reactions on that list.

Create another (or add) a list of all hospitalizations, surgeries and procedures you've had, with dates. Update that regularly if necessary.

Print and take that information with you to every doctor, every time.

You'll find doctors are extremely grateful to have organized, cleanly typed lists for reference, rather than to try to drag details piece by piece from your overburdened mind. You can then review salient issues together, confident nothing's been overlooked.

4. Due Diligence

Make a list beforehand of everything you want to discuss. Questions, comments, physical complaints, fears. Timelines of symptoms. Prescriptions you need refilled. Bring a pencil and take notes as you review the list with the doctor.

Bring test results. Copies of reports from other doctors. (You are entitled to get those reports from any doctor you see.) X-rays. MRI's. CT scans. (You're entitled to get copies of those too.)

Take notes of instructions, suggestions and referrals. If your doctor sees you put everything in writing, you'll both be reassured you've got the whole picture. And who can read a doctor's handwriting anyway?

5. Payment Attention

Don't forget your insurance card, co-pay and referral slip, if necessary.

You made it this far, you don't want to blow the appointment because you forgot to remember the red tape.
Remember this too: doctors and those who run their offices appreciate and value patients who have it all together. If you show respect for their time and effort, they'll pay more attention to yours.

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Blogger Ross said...

this country's doctors seem to function more around "sick care" than "health care."

that said, i wouldn't mind hearing your take on west virginia's recent addition of dance dance revolution to their schools' phys ed curriculums.

7:48 PM  

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