Get involved in your health care—the right way!

Health
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By Martine G. Brousse

Learn more about Martine on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

The times, they are changing for sure. One example is in the way we, as patients, see the medical profession and relate to our physicians. I still remember my parents and grandparents blindly surrendering their health and life to their doctor, having placed him on a pedestal lower than God and the saints, but definitely higher than everyone else.

Nowadays, we research, question and direct our care providers, sometimes at the cost of alienating them and sabotaging our health.

Getting patients involved in their care, and keeping them on board, is crucial to making a treatment or health protocol successful. Failure to do so can lead to botched results, increased risk of complications or aggravation and wasted resources, especially financial ones. Yet many patients are turned off by the perceived arrogance and poor listening skills that too many physicians exhibit. Faced with derision, rejection or dismissal, they might hinder chances at a successful cure by not reporting potentially important symptoms or health factors, or even by stopping treatment.

So, is there a middle way?

There must be, as many are achieving it. Working side by side, many patients have learned to listen to and profit from the wisdom and experience that comes in a white coat, while expressing feedback, preferences and questions in a process based on mutual respect and acceptance.

1. Research is necessary

Getting the facts is the first step toward a successful outcome. Before making or agreeing to any treatment, patients should become acquainted with their diagnosis and its health repercussions, possible courses of action, costs and rates of success.

General information and fact sheets can be obtained from government-based health websites, from private organizations focusing on this condition and from fact sheets published by teaching universities or medical associations. Here are a few to get you started:

2. Questions are essential

Evaluate the impact of a diagnosis on your daily life by asking your physician how it will personally affect you. Ask about each treatment, its risks and benefits. What are the expected results, side effects and severity? How will you know a treatment is working? What would it take to recognize a change of regimen is necessary? What is the timetable for any lab, test or imaging? What is the expected cost? Are there generic alternatives or free samples for oral medications? (If it will make you less anxious, using an equivalent but less-expensive option might be beneficial. Comparing options will help guide you and your physician to take the most appropriate decision.)

If you have doubts, or decide treatment is not for you, it is your right to express your views. If your doctor disagrees, it will be indicated in his report, but you should nonetheless receive the supportive measures, palliative care, pain management or other modalities you might require. While some physicians still dismiss patients who refuse to endorse a prescribed treatment, they might soon become dinosaurs.

You might also consider seeking a second opinion. Your insurance can refer you to another specialist. Try to see a physician outside of your current doctor’s medical group or practice, as colleagues are unlikely to contradict each other. Most policies cover the cost of a second-opinion consultation.

3. Communicate and participate

Once you have made an informed choice, gathered all the necessary information and facts and understand what constitutes an emergency and what is to be expected, it is important to keep in regular contact with your doctor.

Indicate any change, sudden onset or new indications or aggravations. Monitor side effects; report any symptom outside the established norm. Consult the office about unexpected reactions, or any possible interaction with newly prescribed drugs. Mention supplements and alternative medicine remedies you might want to include in your treatment. And make sure you keep your scheduled appointments, and that your medication list is up to date.

In these days of hurried physicians, brief appointments and packed schedules, it falls on patients to take a more active role in their care. Working as a team has been shown to lower the risk of medical errors, encourage patient participation and involvement, boost compliance and bring about more successful outcomes. A balanced dialogue can also reduce costs, lower stress and build trust.

All are encouraging signs that old habits might be changing for the better.