The doctor’s role as an authority figure is very much deeply ingrained in the American culture. In addition, no one wants to be perceived as a difficult patient. It’s fine to follow your doctor’s orders if it is based on shared medical decision-making. However, when you’re in a room with a paper on the exam table crinkling under your bare bottom you may not feel so empowered. That being said, you cannot afford to be intimidated by your doctor and be a passive bystander. You need to keep focused on what is being ordered for tests and medications. Do not make rash decisions at that moment but rather go home and research it and look at other options if they are available. I would disregard those doctors who tell you everything on the Internet is incorrect. You must be careful when researching of course but there are very reliable nonprofit organizations that provide sound guidance like the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland clinic. Dig for the facts and not someone’s recommendations because they had a similar medication or similar test. Ask a lot of questions, make sure you know the tests are justifiable and medications are not in conflict with what you are ready taking or the side effects that could be dangerous to your particular condition. We would not dream of buying a weed-eater let alone a car on someone’s recommendation without looking at facts and figures and comparisons first.
Be careful and be precise when you explain a symptom to your doctor. Many unnecessary x-rays, MRIs, and other procedures are commonly ordered because doctors do not want to be sued for not screening properly, for instance, if the patient has a heart attack or some other unknown known event after the appointment. Doctors are often paid a fee for these procedures and have a “better safe than sorry” justification. The same goes for referrals to specialists. They are invaluable in diagnosing a problem but need to be terminated when their expertise is no longer needed and a primary care physician can take over.
Make sure your communication is open with your doctor.
- Ask questions such as “what does that mean”? Most doctors just assume that you understand their medical terminology that they use every day. They are under incredible time pressure and if you do not bring a list of complaints to them you will probably get rushed out before you have all of your answers and concerns addressed.
- Don’t be afraid to tell your doctor that you’ve considered other hypotheses about your health based on your own observations.
- Avoid “on the way out the door” complaints. Those are things you suddenly remember like “oh and by the way I’m having pain in my back or trouble swallowing”. At that point the doctor can’t really do anything so they tell you to make another appointment or go to the emergency room. By then your 15 minute allotted appointment is up.
- Be honest when talking to your doctor about your out-of-pocket costs. Most people are shy about bringing up financial concerns even thinking they might get substandard care if they mention money is an object. But the fact is that in almost all cases physicians have good options available. They may know about free prescription drug samples or programs from the pharmaceutical companies that could pay for your medications.
Putting these suggestions in place may be difficult at first but it will empower you as a patient. After all it is your body and your life. Too many times miscommunication or lack of communication between patient and doctor ends up with serious consequences. There are no old-time general doctors anymore that know your family and have the time to sit down and have a conversation with you. The old practice of physicians using critical questioning to get a better knowledge of what’s really going on with the patient has been replaced by scheduling as many patients in 15 min. increments as possible. Never forget the medical field is a huge business and as such you are the customer. You are the profit and the loss on their financial sheet but that also gives you enormous power because without your insurance and money they would not exist as the huge corporation that they are. You are the customer, you are the product and you have a right to accept or decline medications, tests or procedures. If you have a doctor that is very uncomfortable with that you need to look around and find a doctor that became one for the right reason.