Doctors are trained to diagnose and treat symptoms of illness. Patients come to their doctors with preconceived notions of how they should be medically treated, knowledge gleaned from the plethora of medical information readily available to all on the Internet, books and magazines. More and more patients are finding a gap between their expectations and the reality of their doctor visits.
Some doctors admit that they are squeezed for time, pinched by the insurance company’s scrutiny of their submitted reimbursements and pushed to see more patients by their employers and/or partners. The system no longer allows for lengthy, one-on-one visits with your doctor. The result is that more and more patients report that they simply do not trust their physician.
But what can we do to force our doctor to focus on us? To assert our visit is important and demands his or her full attention and expertise? Do we need to lobby for different rules governing the system? Do we need to pay by the minute so that a physician will review our case until we are satisfied?
There is no need to go to such extremes. By adjusting how you, the patient, approaches the visit you can ensure that you are getting the most out of your doctor.
Patients should be encouraged to enter the exam room with a written list of questions for the doctor they are seeing. And you should insist that the doctor give the necessary time to answer each question. I know of several friends and family members who go to important medical consultations with written questions and a video camera to make sure the answers are well documented for further reflection or to allow for a comparative second or third opinion. Whatever method you use it is important that you are in control of your medical care.
A great example of someone who is in complete control of their medical care is Senator Edward Kennedy. When Senator Kennedy was first diagnosed with brain cancer he enlisted a conference of some the nation’s most respected surgeons to collaborate on a treatment plan. Surgery or no surgery was the principal subject debated. By rounding up the best medical minds of the country and overseeing their dedication to his care Senator Kennedy took control of his medical care.
Albeit, most people are not the chairman of the Senate’s committee on health and don’t carry the prestige of being a Kennedy, but the idea can work for all of us: that is, to insist on communication with all of our medical providers. We must insist that we are listened to within reason and that our doctors give us consul as well as a course of treatment to better health.
But the onus isn’t all on us patients. Doctors should do their part, too. The relationship between patient and physician has become increasingly uncomfortable. Efforts should be made on both sides of the examining room to return to the Hippocratic doctrine that the patient’s faith in your doctor will help healing.
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