February is National Wise Health Care Consumer month – a wonderful reminder that healthcare begins with us, the consumer.
On a daily basis we are all consumers, and generally speaking, very savvy consumers: we seek the finest hairdresser who knows how to make us look and feel our best, we question our mechanics about their diagnostics and ask for quotes prior to them completing the service, and we hire the most highly trusted nanny to care for our children. Yet when it comes to healthcare, we often disassociate from our role of “consumer,” and play a more passive role in the relationship with our practitioners. There exists an unspoken mentality that questions shouldn’t be asked, the practitioner is always right, and we can’t know the cost until after we’ve received the invoice. But why? Your provider is working for you, you pay for their service, and you have a right to know or ask about your health.
An ideal practitioner-patient relationship really should be seen as a meeting of two “experts.” The practitioner brings to the table their medical expertise to assist the patient in recovery, and the patient brings a wealth of contextual knowledge and expertise needed by the practitioner in order for them to properly assist the patient.
As consumers of our health (aka “patients”), it’s time we become empowered self-advocates in the doctor office and with our health care team. Here are a few tips to help you embody your expert status and advocate for your health. Follow these ABC’s to help optimize your consumption of healthcare:
A: Ask questions & always trust your gut
- Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to clarify, explain, or use layman’s terms. Patients present with varying degrees of knowledge, and doctors may assume you understand what they are explaining.
- Ask for printed or electronic records of test results, labs, or important health documents. Create a personal health folder at home for yourself to best keep track of your health.
- Remember, nobody knows your body better than you! If something feels off or different, don’t settle with not getting answers or help. Likely there is something that needs to be addressed.
B: Be prepared
- Prior to your visit with your practitioner, write down questions or concerns you’d like to discuss. A thorough medical professional should ask you all of the pertinent questions for a proper assessment, but it is best to be prepared in the case they don’t.
- Share any changes you’ve had in symptoms, medications, diet, or family health history. Don’t assume the practitioner will ask about these changes.
- Take notes during your appointments. While you may think you’ll remember what your practitioner told you during the visit, it is best to take notes to accurately recall the information discussed.
C: Communicate concerns and desires
- Let your practitioner know what your goals and concerns are at each visit. Doctors and practitioners are not superhuman mind-readers! They are there to serve us, so be clear about your expectations to avoid any guessing games.
- Communication is about asking questions, challenging thinking, and knowing your options. If you’re not comfortable with the treatment your provider is recommending, say so! Healthcare is not a one-size-fits-all model. It should be individualized to match your goals while still supporting your health.
It’s important to remind ourselves that finding a trusted healthcare provider may take time. Ask friends and family members for referrals, research practitioners beforehand, and contact offices prior to scheduling in order to clarify any questions you have about their services. If you don’t feel your current provider is listening to you or helping you achieve optimal health in a way you are comfortable with, consider changing providers. Don’t be afraid to ask your current practitioner for a referral if they aren’t a good fit for you. A genuinely caring practitioner will understand, want the best for you, and will be happy to provide you this information. This is your health we are talking about. The single most important element of your existence! You wouldn’t return to your hairdresser over and over if they continued to provide you with a haircut you didn’t like…would you?
Dr. Sidney Pharis is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor trained in family practice and pediatrics. Click here to learn more about Dr. Pharis.