Take Charge of Your Healthcare: 9 Tips to Become Your Own Best Advocate
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Guest Post by Martine Ehrenclou, M.A.
When I talk about being a take-charge patient, inevitably someone will incorrectly assume that I mean usurping a medical provider’s expertise by taking over the medical encounter.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Taking charge of your healthcare means taking charge of you as a patient. By taking some responsibility for your part and meeting your medical provider half way, you resist the temptation to be a passive patient and simply go along for the ride. A take-charge patient empowers him/herself with information that affects his/her body, mind and well-being. You wouldn’t go to a car mechanic and blindly hand over your car. You’d bring in information about what is wrong, ask the mechanic what he/she planned to do to fix it, how much it would cost and when it would be ready. You can use a similar strategy with your doctor and other medical providers.
- Increased quality of care, increased patient safety, and increased patient satisfaction. This means you! If you participate in your medical care by becoming informed about your disease or condition, about your medications, proposed diagnoses and treatment plans, you will be happier with your care, there will be fewer medical errors and the care you receive will be better quality, According to The CommonWealth Fund.
- Increased patient confidence and empowerment. By being invested in your healthcare, asking questions, being prepared for medical appointments, and doing a little investigation on a doctor you see, you become a more informed patient—that translates to a more empowered one. You’ll feel less anxious in the face of a medical provider, and about your illness/condition. Familiarity breeds confidence.
You don’t have to have a serious illness or medical condition to take charge of your medical care. You can be an advocate for yourself just as you would for your children. And being an advocate for your kids takes some effort and investment of time to make sure pediatricians offer correct diagnoses and treatment plans.
It’s time to do the same for you. Regardless of the changes with HealthCare Reform (Affordable Care Act), we all must be proactive, take-charge patients. Changes in HealthCare Reform
And if you think that electronic health records, encouraged by Healthcare Reform, is going to erase the need for you to be involved, think again. Electronic health records are great when used in a closed system such as Kaiser Permanente or Cleveland Clinic. But for the rest of doctors and hospitals, they don’t have ways to communicate electronically to one another with the exception of phone, email, Google Docs and other apps. There’s a missing link in electronic health records—the means for medical providers to communicate with one another outside of a closed system.
How to start:
- Obtain copies of important medical records from your medical providers. You may have to fax a letter or pay a small fee. Put copies in your health file at home. This way you can withdraw a piece of information when you need it, or when a doctor needs it, instead of waiting for medical offices to send your information which probably won’t arrive in a timely manner, if at all.
- Create a list of your current medications and their dosages, over-the-counter medications, herbs, supplements, and allergies to medications. Bring this list to each medical provider you see.
- Create a list of questions and your top three medical concerns before each appointment with your doctor or nurse. It’s okay to ask questions of your doctors—that’s how you learn.
- Ask your medical provider about the risks and benefits to any procedure, test, treatment or surgery.
- Research your diagnosis and proposed treatment plan before you simply agree to it, unless moving quickly is a medical necessity. Credible websites end in .edu, .org and .gov Here is a list of credible resources on my website http://thetakechargepatient.com/resources.html
- Evaluate your relationship with your doctor, as that relationship is the cornerstone of quality medical care. Do you feel listened to and heard? Do you and the doctor communicate well? Do you respect one another? Are you comfortable asking questions? Do you have a personal connection? Does he/she welcome your participation?
- Get an advocate to accompany you to medical appointments if you are at any time confused, overwhelmed or uncertain about what your medical provider is telling you.
- Get a second opinion. If ever you are unsure about a medical provider’s diagnosis or treatment plan, or simply if you want to make sure it’s the correct one for you, get another opinion from a different medical provider, specifically one who is board-certified in that specialty and affiliated with a respected medical school.
- Create a Medical ID card. There are plenty of phone apps for that, but consider creating a hard copy to fit into a slot next to your driver’s license in your wallet. You never know when your phone will run out of battery or when a medical provider won’t know where to find that app if there’s an emergency. Here’s a link for a Medical ID card http://thetakechargepatient.com/download.html
It’s not about taking over. It’s about taking charge of you as a patient.
Author of the award winning, The Take-Charge Patient
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