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As I was sitting on the airplane heading off to visit my dad in the hospital, I was reminded once again of all that patients can do to enhance their own medical care. Often patients don't ask for information, as the doctor is seen as boss and miracle worker, but in truth, if doctor and patient work together, they can form a formidable team. While I had the elderly in mind, these suggestions for how to make your medical care first-rate are applicable to just about anyone.
Be an active participant in your care.
Be involved, keep informed and take on as much responsibility as necessary for your own well-being. Get help and support from others as needed.
Don't be afraid to ask questions.
If you don't understand what medical personnel tell you, or if you question why you need a procedure, ask for clarification. Let the appropriate people know your concerns and fears and your real questions if you have not yet voiced them. This can go a long way toward reducing anxiety.
Access information in a way that will be most helpful to you.
Perhaps you want to bring a friend or family member to a doctor's appointment, so that if you miss information, they will be able to fill in the blanks later on. I have accompanied several anxious families to very important meetings with their physicians. I was able to take notes for them, ask questions and because I wasn't directly involved, I was able to offer support in the process. It worked well for both doctor and patient alike. Many doctors have informational handouts and if not, can at least point you to good reference sources for finding out more about your medical condition. Having accurate knowledge may prevent you from imagining the worst-case scenario.
Be prepared in advance to provide additional information, which will help your doctor provide you with better care.
This may include past relevant medical data as well as a list of drugs you currently take or are allergic to. Over-the-counter medications and homeopathic remedies may also affect a treatment choice so make sure that you keep good records and list anything at all relevant. Your doctor can decide whether it is information that will impact on your care.
Assess all risks and benefits.
All procedures, treatments or drugs have associated benefits and risks. Your doctor can help you in being an educated consumer and making an informed decision as to whether the suggested protocol is right for you. Some people like to have all of the information and then make a decision, whereas others prefer to have their doctor decide for them. Find out what is involved and what you can do to have things proceed smoothly.
Read labels carefully and follow instructions.
Make sure that you have the correct medicine and the correct dose. Lots of medicines look alike, sound alike or are similar, even though their dosages may differ. It is easy to get confused, and this can be quite dangerous. It is also easy to forget to take your medicine, so it's important to devise a system that works to help you remember! Medications should be finished unless told otherwise and should never be shared among family members.
Make sure all of your health care providers are informed of everyone involved in your care.
When I can have direct access to family doctors, psychiatrists and nutritionists, for example, I know that these patients often get improved and coordinated care, as all are relevant to their overall health.
Find out about follow-up care and know what to expect after a procedure, test, hospital admission, etc. Whom can you contact if you have a problem? When will you be seen again? Many people have very special needs, and these must be taken into account when one is unwell.
If you insist on good treatment and are a partner in your care, you will be rewarded as a happier and healthier patient. You are a key player. Here's to your good health.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in Ra'anana. This column offers general psychological advice and is not intended to replace treatment by a mental health professional.
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