Chapter 14: How to Make the Most of Your Doctor
The treatment of a disease may be entirely impersonal; the care of a patient must be completely personal - Francis Peabody
No one likes to fall ill, and as a logical extension, most of us dont like going to the doctor. A visit to the doctor also brings back childhood fears of painful injections and unpleasant blood tests. Thus, it is no surprise that a medical clinic is second to unpopularity only to a dentists chair! Consequently, most of us do not make the best use of our doctors; we tend to use them as crutches only when we fall ill. However, one should never forget that the doctor-patient relationship is unique; since it is the ultimate one-to-one relationship, in which you confide fully in your doctor and entrust him with your life, you must learn to work as a partner with your doctor !
Remember that the doctors staff plays a key role in your medical care , and you need to learn how the clinic functions. Its very helpful to build up a rapport with a special staff-member (who can be a receptionist, a nurse or an assistant), and this can prove to be very useful when you need to talk to the doctor on a priority basis. The simple rule is that if you treat the staff well, you will be treated well too! A small thank-you gift for the staff can help ensure that you get personalized attention. Its useful to learn which days are the busiest and what times are the best to consult the doctor. You should also find out what steps to take if there is an emergency, or when the clinic is closed.
Remember to inform your doctor about all the symptoms you have noted. List them in a chronological order, starting from the time when you first noted that something was amiss. Its extremely useful to record the factors that make your symptoms better, and those that make them worse. This information provides very useful medical clues. Also, let your doctor know what remedies you have tried earlier, and whether they have helped or not. Do not play games with your doctor. If you have consulted another earlier or have undergone relevant tests, please share this information with your present doctor. Its helpful to prepare a short one-page summary of your medical history; not only does this summary help the doctor, but it also ensures you do not forget to convey to him information which could be vitally important in your treatment. Computer programs are available today, which can help you record and organize your medical history, as well as that of your family members. Make a list of all the medications you are taking, both prescription and non-prescription. As an alternative, you can collect all your medicines in a brown paper bag and show them to your doctor. Moreover, list all the specialists you are consulting for specific disorders/conditions.
Ask your doctor to explain your diagnosis and how it might affect you and your family.
Useful questions include:
- What is the diagnosis ? Find out the complete medical name - and what it means in plain English !
- What is my prognosis (outlook for the future)?
- What changes, if any, will I need to make in my daily life?
- Is there a chance that someone else in my family might get the same condition?
- Will I need special help at home for my condition? If so, what type of help?
Your doctor is definitely not a mind-reader and you must tell him everything you know, think, and feel about your problem if you want an accurate diagnosis and the best treatment plan. There is no need to be shy or embarrassed about sensitive subjects such as sexual problems or sexually transmitted diseases as far as your doctor is concerned. Rest assured that doctors have seen it all and heard it all - theyre not there to pass moral or ethical judgement on your conduct.
Do keep in mind that doctors are also human, and they are badgered by their own share of problems. On certain days they may seem rude or curt; on such days, give them a little leeway and a lot of understanding!
Since it is your head on the block, so to say, you are entitled to raise all relevant questions and seek satisfactory answers to them. If you cannot understand your doctors explanations, ask him to repeat everything in simpler language. Ask him to show you illustrations; also, ask for written material that explains the medical issues in greater detail, so that you can study this later at leisure.
The following terms can be very helpful when you talk to your doctor:
- Please tell me more about that.
- What does that mean in simple English?
- Could you explain that to me again?
- Could you write that down for me?
- Where can I find more information about this subject?
- You seem rushed.
- When can I call you to talk about this in more detail?
Try to schedule your next visit at the end of the consultation. If the succeeding question-answer session is something which can be managed on the telephone, then try to do so. You could save both time and money by avoiding an unnecessary follow-up visit to the doctors clinic.
Another important point to be borne in mind is to carry written checklists with you during every visit. Normally, you can think up a wide range of questions to ask the doctor, but as a result of the stress generated by the consultation you invariably forget most of them. Such a situation is very frustrating, and you kick yourself when you get home. To prevent this from happening, write down all the questions you need to ask in order of priority. It is also helpful to write down the doctors answers. Studies have shown that patients forget about 50 per cent of what the doctor tells them during a visit! Writing down the doctors answers will prevent such a disaster! Moreover, your doctor also stands to benefit because you need not pester him with your queries all over again!
What happens if you and your doctor differ about a treatment option? Let me point out that theres a right way of approaching your doctor and a wrong way. Its simply a matter of mutual respect; you wouldnt want your doctor to assume the worst about you, so, on a reciprocal basis, dont assume the worst about him! Often, if you can put across your feelings and apprehensions in the right way, you can get your doctor to help you. Explain your needs to the physician in a polite way, without any belligerence or hostility. Remember that you are both on the same side - yours!
In order to ensure that you dont lose your patience while waiting in the clinic, it would be a prudent idea to carry a paperback novel or a Walkman. Nowadays, many doctors keep patient educational leaflets and brochures in their clinics and you could read these and thus use your waiting time constructively! Some clinics are also blessed with TV sets, so that patients do not get totally fed up.
While an occasional delay is unavoidable (since a medical emergency could require your doctors immediate attention), if you are made to wait for an eternity each time, something is seriously wrong with the doctors attitude towards patients. For any inordinate delay, the clinic staff should be courteous enough to provide an explanation, and, if needed, an alternative appointment. As an example of efficient patient management, if a doctor at the famous Mayo Clinic in the USA makes you wait for more than 30 minutes without an explanation, you can complain to the hospital manager who will rectify matters.
Certain categories of patients can be particularly irksome or tiresome.
For instance, doctors dislike patients who :
- Expect to be treated on a priority basis.
- Are always late.
- Waste time needlessly.
- Ask the same questions endlessly.
- Think they know all the answers.
- Do not value the doctors privacy or personal time.
- Do not follow instructions.
- Go doctor shopping i.e., change doctors all the time.
- Dont pay their fees on time. Its always helpful to put yourself in the other persons shoes; i.e., to see things from your doctors point of view! The ideal patient would be one who:
- Comes to appointments on time, or is thoughtful enough to phone to cancel them.
- Tries to explain exactly whats bothering him; i.e., he can express his anxieties and apprehensions clearly.
- Answers questions honestly.
- Volunteers any important information that the doctor may not specifically ask about, including family history.
- Lets the doctor know if cannot follow his directions and specifies the reasons why.
- Takes medications as directed, strictly adhering to the dose schedule.
- Expresses his dissatisfaction in a courteous manner