Whether or not you like surprises, one thing is certain – nobody likes a surprise when it comes to their own healthcare. The good news is that you can do a lot to navigate around these “landmines”. Here are my top five tips to take control of your own care:
- Make lists. All too often, patients apologize about bringing in a typewritten list of questions to an office visit. News flash: I prefer that patients bring in a list so I know that all of their questions are answered. Educating patients is the first step towards a successful treatment, and your list of questions is usually a time-saver in this regard.
- Carry essential health information about yourself with you at all times (and certainly to any doctor visit). This information includes your medications, allergies, prior surgeries, and medical conditions (current and previous).
- Maintain a condensed version of your own medical records. Sometimes the best “second opinion” is your own. Usually you can rely on your healthcare provider to attend to the details, but it never hurts to look for inconsistencies or abnormal values that might have been overlooked. Keeping these records also ensures that your physician sees the big picture – or the missing link – when searching for a diagnosis.
- Establish a healthcare advocate “buddy system”. When you are ill or just stressed, it can be difficult to keep an eye on your own care. That’s where an extra set of eyes comes in handy. Good candidates include your spouse, other family member, or good friend. But make this arrangement when you’re healthy. And what they don’t tell you: patients with advocates receive more attention from their healthcare providers.
- Find a healthcare “ambassador”. This is the Holy Grail of receiving great healthcare. While word-of-mouth recommendations can be useful, other patients often lack the medical knowledge and objectivity of someone with formal training. Do you have a neighbor, friend, or spouse of a co-worker that works in the healthcare field? Examples include nurses, physicians, hospital employees, medical device reps, and pharmaceutical reps. This type of healthcare ambassador can provide unbiased “inside information” that may be otherwise inaccessible.