Your relationship with your doctor needs to be, well, healthy. From open and clear communication to how long you sit in the waiting room, your whole experience with your doctor should be based on mutual respect, trust and convenience. Here are a few ways to be your own healthcare advocate.
Start with a Primary
Your primary physician is the central hub of your healthcare. Even if you’re “healthy,” you most likely have a network of doctors. Specialists like podiatrists, dermatologists and chiropractors offer hyper-focused attention while your primary physician provides and manages overall care. Your primary should be the main referral source for all of your specialists, as well as keep records of what occurred at those appointments. With that in mind, it’s critical that you select a primary that you can consider a partner in your wellbeing. If you’re doing your part as a good patient, you’re seeing your primary not just when you’re sick, but when you’re not at annual or semi-annual physicals. Ongoing primary care and prevention require two-way participation, which means you need to be open and ready to make lifestyle changes if your doctor recommends them.
Finding a Doctor
Finding the right doctor, let alone the best fit for your needs and personality, might take some time. Your relationship with your primary is one of the most important you’ll have in your life, so there’s no need to rush or settle until you’ve found the right one for you. One important criteria in narrowing your selection is the location of the practice. You’ll need to be within a brief driving distance if you’re sick or need to see your primary doc suddenly, so be sure to start your search somewhat near your home. There are plenty of ways to get a referral, be it word of mouth from your social circle of friends and family, or a recommendation from someone in your existing medical network. Think about it – you can ask anyone from your neighbor to your dentist for a recommendation. If this doesn’t pan out, you can always venture online and weed through the Yelp-like review sites like healthgrades.com. When you finally select one, think about your first appointment with the doctor as an opportunity to learn about the doctor, his or her education and medical training and office policies.
If you’re compatible with the doctor and you feel at ease in his or her presence, there are still a few more questions to ask yourself. Will you trust the doctor’s recommendations? Do your appointments run on time or do you wait for long periods of time each visit? Not respecting your time can be a deal breaker when it comes to sticking with a doctor. How convenient is the practice? Do they have early, late or weekend hours? If getting to the doctor is in itself an issue, then you need to find a practice that’s better suited for your schedule.
Being a Good Patient
Even the best doctors can’t help bad patients. Like any good relationship, the patient-doctor one has to be completely based on trust. So that means if you drink a glass of wine each and every night, you’re not rounding down and selecting the 1-2 drinks per week checkbox at your visit. No one knows your body better than you, and no one can help you stay healthy with a thought-out lifelong wellness plan like your doctors.
Access to Records
There’s a classic episode of Seinfield where Elaine can’t get treated for a rash because she’s developed a reputation for being a difficult patient. She tries to peek into her doctor’s tightly guarded file while he tells her she shouldn’t be looking at. While the scene is hilarious, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. According to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule, patients have a right to inspect, review and receive a copy of their medical files. Some tech-savvy doctors even offer access to a secure online portal where you can find lab and imaging records.
If you require surgery or have a life-altering diagnosis, you should always consider a second, even a third, opinion. More opinions might give you more information, and when it comes to your health more is always better. Just keep in mind that you want to do this in cooperation with the original diagnosing physician. You want one team on your side, not opposing teams that might present conflict.
Do Your Research
While you don’t want to be consumed with looking up every ailment you encounter, you should do your research and become as informed as you can if something continues to bother you. If you have arthritis, as an example, read up on it. While you can’t change the condition, you can help to potentially reduce further discomfort by eating foods that don’t cause inflammation, doing specific exercises or maybe getting physical therapy. There’s endless ways to stay informed such as websites like WebMD, IRL support groups or online forums via Facebook. Learning more about your ailments from people that also have them can be just as beneficial as talking to your doctor.
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