Managing an illness or injury can be overwhelming and stressful. Of course, we all want the best possible care and the best possible outcome. But how do we achieve those goals? By being an engaged, effective member of our medical team. Here are six tips to better manage your healthcare for yourself or a loved one.
1. Prepare for medical appointments.
Doctors see patients in time limited slots, with both parties often feeling rushed. To get the most out of your medical appointments, prepare by writing down your “story” before each appointment: When did the issue(s) begin? What does it feel like? How is it impacting your life? Additionally, write down all your questions before each appointment.
2. Communicate effectively at medical appointments.
Research has shown that effective doctor-patient communication is linked to more appropriate medical decisions, better health outcomes, and higher patient satisfaction. However, effective communication is easier said than done. Medical information can be confusing and rushed appointments can make it hard to have good conversations. To improve communication during your appointments, follow these tips:
- Make sure the doctor “hears” your story. If the doctor interrupts you, don’t get sidetracked – continue where you left off.
- If you don’t understand what the doctor is saying, ask for clarification. Keep asking until you understand.
- Ask for written materials, including diagrams and illustrations as needed.
- Repeat what you have heard back to the doctor to be sure you understood correctly.
- If something doesn’t seem right, speak up!
- Don’t lie to your doctor! It might be tempting to be dishonest about your personal habits, or about complying with your doctor’s recommendations, but you’re not doing yourself any favors in the long run.
3. Take notes and/or record appointments.
A big step you can take to better manage your healthcare is to take notes at medical appointments. Think you don’t need to bother? Think again! A study found that 40-80% of medical information patients hear in the doctor’s office is forgotten almost immediately. And 50% of what patients remember, they remember incorrectly. Because it is critical that you correctly remember and understand the information your doctor is sharing, take handwritten notes and/or record your appointments (ask for the doctor’s permission before recording).
4. Avoid too many tests and treatments.
Unfortunately, there is a trend of too many tests and too much treatment of patients across the US. Why? A combination of factors:
- Patients insist on tests and treatments
- Doctors practice defensive medicine due to concerns about malpractice
- Inadequate time for patient appointments encourages testing
- Doctors received financial incentives to prescribe tests and treatments
A recent survey of US primary care doctors found that 42% believe their own patients are receiving too much care.
Before agreeing to any test, ask your doctor:
- What does he/she expect to learn from the test?
- How will the test results impact diagnosis and treatment?
- What are possible risk factors?
- If the risks seem high, are there any alternative ways to get a diagnosis?
- What would happen if you did NOT do the test?
When evaluating treatment options, ask:
- What are the recommendations and why?
- Are there other options?
- What options do other hospitals or facilities offer?
- How will the recommended treatment impact my prognosis?
- What are the short and long-term possible side effects?
- What if I take a “wait and see” approach?
- Any alternative medicine treatments to augment traditional treatments?
Think carefully before insisting on a test or treatment. Of course, there will be times where you need to be persistent, but there will also be times where you might be pushing for unnecessary care. Getting a 2nd opinion can help you make these decisions.
5. Pay attention to medication management.
Since medication errors are common and potentially dangerous, one of the best things you can do to better manage your healthcare is to pay attention to medication.
How big is this issue? The Institute of Medicine estimates the average hospitalized patient experiences at least one medication error each day, with an estimated 1.5 million preventable adverse drug interactions each year in US hospitals and long-term care facilities.
The statistics aren’t great for non-hospitalized patients either. Research shows that over 50% of US adults don’t take their medications as prescribed. However, taking charge of your own medications requires diligence, so take the time and attention needed to do it correctly.
Follow these recommendations to reduce your risk of medication errors:
For hospitalized patients.
- Keep a complete list of all medications, prescription and over-the-counter, at the hospital.
- Ask the nurse to confirm the name and dosage of each medication before you take it.
- If a nurse gives you a medication that doesn’t look familiar, do NOT take it without getting clarification.
- If you don’t think you should be taking a particular medication, ask to speak to the head nurse. Be sure you get an answer that seems logical to you before taking the medication. If necessary, ask to speak to your doctor, or the doctor covering the floor.
For patients at home.
- Always carry a complete list of medications that you are taking, including over-the-counter medicines. Moreover, share this list with each doctor – don’t assume each doctor knows what other doctors have prescribed.
- When getting a new medication, be sure to ask your doctor why, how and when to it.
- Be sure you are getting the right medication at the pharmacy – if a medication looks different than expected, ask the pharmacist to confirm you have the right one.
- Organize your pills in a pill sorter – it makes it easier to see if you’ve taken your medication.
- Set up reminders – set alarms on your phone and leave medications where you will see them (but not in the bathroom where humidity can affect medications).
6. Be sure your medical team wash their hands.
Patients and families can help reduce the spread of infection by asking all medical staff to wash their hands, and by regularly washing their own hands as well. Research confirms what one would expect – medical staff hand washing rates increase significantly when they are asked by patients. So, don’t be shy about asking medical personnel to wash their hands – your life may depend on it! Many hospitals now post signs encouraging patients to remind medical staff to wash their hands – and for patients to wash their own hands.
For more tips to better manage your healthcare, read these blog posts:
- 10 Tips for a Better Medical Appointment.
- Communication Gap Among Doctors.
- The Dangers of Too Many Tests and Treatments for Patients.
- 10 Tips to Communicate Better with Doctors.
- How Can You Get the Best Healthcare? Actively Participate!
- Understanding Medical Information Is Harder Than Most Realize.