In past generations it was generally considered unthinkable to question one’s doctor. Physicians possessed unchallenged authority, and their words carried nearly divine weight. Ironically, even in today’s skeptical age, some patients – especially older ones – still feel reluctant to challenge their doctor about anything he or she says. (If you want to read more about this phenomenon, we suggest this article in Psychology Today called “God Syndrome” from several years ago. It’s entertaining reading.)
But these days, as health care has become more of a commodity, the doctor-patient relationship is changing. Today it is absolutely essential that patients learn to stand up for themselves so that they get better answers and better care. To help explain when and how to take a stand and be a bit more assertive – even confrontational – with your health care provider, we suggest you read “How to Stand Up for Yourself at the Doctor’s Office”, a helpful and insightful article published some months back on the website NextAvenue.org. If you fail to force the issue, says the article, “it could potentially damage your health in the long term.” The article states that “self-advocacy is an important skill for anyone navigating the medical system.”
“It’s absolutely okay to ask questions, be proactive about your care and speak up when you’re not comfortable for any reason,” says Dr. Kristin Mascotti from Long Beach Memorial Hospital. So what are some of the times when you need to speak up? NextAvenue mentions several situations that demand that you take a stand in the spirit of medical self-advocacy.
For example: speak up when you’re having difficulty getting an appointment with the specialist you need to see. NextAvenue reports that these types of delays in seeing specialists are getting worse with the shortage in some medical specialties, so this may be the time to go back to your own doctor and ask him or her to intervene and speed up the process with the specialist. Here’s where your personal relationship with your own doctor or clinic can help, because they may know how to break through the regular scheduling channels and get you in sooner. At least they can make sure you’re on a cancellation list in case something opens up, an option you may not have known about.
You need to take a stand when you’re suffering side effects from medications, but your doctor doesn’t seem to be taking them seriously. This issue can become testy, says the article in NextAvenue, because many doctors tend to think of the body as predictable and orderly, and some side effects as imaginary. But as one healthcare expert stated, “symptoms can be unpredictable [and] bodies can be disorderly and unstable.” If your doctor dismisses your concerns about side effects, you should politely challenge him or her and ask the basis for their skepticism. And if the pattern of trivializing your worries persists, it may be time to seek out a new physician who will be more responsive to you and your concerns.
It’s time to confront your doctor when you feel pressured into treatment or tests that you don’t want. The first thing to do if this is a concern is to ask questions – politely yet firmly. “I need to understand why this procedure is going to be beneficial to me” may be a good opening query. And don’t give up until you are satisfied with the answers you’re getting. The growing cost of unnecessary health care screening is becoming something of a national scandal. (We found this article from the magazine Scientific American, written a few years ago, that pegged the cost of unnecessary diagnostic screening combined with the cost of excessive bureaucracy at a staggering $700 billion!) As a patient, you are also a consumer, so don’t feel obligated to agree to tests and procedures unless you’re convinced of their value.
Based on our extensive experience with medical matters for our retirement-age clients, we have two recommendations of our own. First, it’s always wise to get a trusted friend or family member involved in the conversation when it comes to medical decisions. They can accompany you to your doctor’s office and help advocate for you. Second, as we always remind our clients, your health care team definitely should include a geriatric physician who understands your particular needs as you age. Contact our office and we can provide you with names of geriatricians in your area.
We also welcome the opportunity to work with you on all aspects of your retirement planning. With our comprehensive approach called LifePlanning, we can help you answer all the critical questions that a solid plan should contain. Are your financial resources properly allocated? Are all your legal documents in place and up to date? Is your family informed about and supportive of your wishes? Have you considered where you want to live? Have you prepared for your medical insurance needs? An AgingOptions LifePlan answers all these questions and more.
To find out about LifePlanning – without cost or obligation – we invite you to attend a LifePlanning Seminar soon. These popular sessions are fast-paced and packed with helpful information and invaluable insights gained over our many years of retirement planning experience. Click here for a list of our Upcoming Events where you can also register online – or if you prefer, please call us during the week and we’ll be glad to assist you. It will be a pleasure to meet you soon at a LifePlanning Seminar near you!
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)