Is your doctor engaged in your health? The medical profession has officially been focused on patient engagement since 2001. The intent is to convince patients as health consumers to become a part of their own health treatment believing that patients will follow their doctor’s instructions, avoid ER trips and lower health care costs if they are engaged in the process. There is in fact a lot of onus placed on the patient to become engaged in the health process and of course there’s a lot of pressure to find apps to make that possible. But as this article points out, patients are already engaged in the problem. It is the patient’s health after all. If there is a disconnect, it’s probably not with the person trying to find a solution to their health problem but rather with a system that thinks that there is a cookie cutter solution that will fit every patient’s problem.
So how do you find a doctor that will help you be engaged in your own health? Finding a doctor is a potentially big ticket item as getting the wrong one could cost you the ultimate price; your health. Just as you wouldn’t buy the first house, car or other big purchase without being completely in love with it, you shouldn’t stay with the first doctor you try if you are dissatisfied with the communication and treatment you receive in the physician’s office either by the doctor or the staff. Your health is your biggest asset. Just as you would hire a financial planner to help keep your financial goals on track, you need to find a doctor who will help keep your medical goals on track so that you can avoid institutional care, becoming a burden on your loved ones or using up all your assets. Here are some recommendations that I’ve compiled from around the web for helping patients looking to create a better relationship with their doctors:
- Figure out what needs you have. Are you diabetic, have cardio problems or arthritis? You may still want a primary care doctor but one that is also board certified in a specialty in line with your medical needs. We often recommend on this site that as you age you should consider hiring a geriatric physician but there is a shortage of doctors in this specialty. One way around this is to find a primary care doctor that specializes in older clients. Here are some reasons why a geriatric physician may be your best option. Here’s why a doctor thinks older people should have a geriatric physician.
- Do you have a need for weekend or after hour availability? Would you be more likely to visit a doctor’s office if it were closer or more convenient to where you live? You may have to shop around to find a doctor that is convenient to your lifestyle but you’re more likely to visit a doctor if getting an appointment or getting to an appointment isn’t a hassle.
- If you’re not hooked in to computers and smartphones, you’re not likely to find it useful that your doctor is. On the other hand if you really like those things, you may feel limited by a doctor who does not. Figure out what sort of communication you prefer and find a doctor (and system) that matches your needs.
- Do your research. Not just on the doctor but on any diseases or disorders you have so that you can have a frank discussion with your doctor. If you’re familiar with computers this is likely to be more comfortable than if you are not.
- Michigan State University researchers found that having an empathetic doctor can actually decrease your pain awareness, which coincides with another study that found that empathetic doctors have patients with better health outcomes. If you feel your doctor is critical of your lifestyle choices or dismisses your concerns, find a doctor who doesn’t. That may mean that you change your insurance. If you’re working, you’re forced to find providers within certain insurance parameters (although you can always ask your insurance provider for an exception) but if you are 65 or older, the opposite strategy should be used. First find a doctor you like, then get insurance coverage based on which insurance plans that doctor takes.
- Be honest about all your symptoms (don’t minimize or exaggerate), look for him or her to provide options and feedback. Know your own medical history, keep a diary of when symptoms occur and educate yourself about your condition(s) and ask for clarification on anything you don’t understand. Take notes. Recognize that you and your doctor must be on the same team and that team’s job concerns your health.
- Be organized and focused, highlight the things you think are the most important and send the list in advance, look for him or her to listen attentively and be prepared to discuss your concerns. Take an active part in your health. Ask if you can record the appointment or have a loved one come with you so that you can better remember the information you have discussed. Don’t be afraid to ask the cost of any procedures or tests that your doctor recommends.
- When you set up an appointment, is the physician prepared for your visit? Does he or she solicit input or do you feel rushed and unheard? Studies show that you have 23 seconds before a doctor interrupts, so keep your information down to relevant data.
- Keep records of medications and supplements, any recent tests and names of other doctors you are currently seeing. Talk to your doctor about any reactions you have to medications. Once you get home, if you have questions, your symptoms get worse or you have problems with your medicine, call the doctor’s office. If you had tests and you have not heard from the doctor, call for your test results. On the doctor side of things, ask the doctor to write out (or print out) any instructions he or she might have about your health condition, any tests you should have done or any specialists you should see.
- Talk about any personal beliefs you may have that may affect your treatment options and let him or her know how thoroughly you want to be involved in the process (general versus detailed knowledge), look for him or her to offer additional resources including videos, handouts, suggested books etc. if you have indicated that you are interested in more information rather than less.
- Stand up for yourself. If you run out of time without getting all of your questions answered, ask for more time, a follow up appointment or someone else to talk to about your questions. At the same time, be respectful of the doctor’s time. Most doctors are overscheduled and spend the day trying to play catch up if a patient goes over their allotted time.
Here’s a Reader’s Digest recommended list for ways to effectively communicate with your doctor.
Remember that your health is really the cornerstone of your retirement. If you have your health, everything else from your housing to your financial well-being will be easier to stay on top of. It’s imperative therefore that you and your doctor form a partnership that makes your health a priority and you can’t do that if you think the doctor is a reluctant or uncaring part of your team.