3 Questions You Should Ask If You Have A Doctor and Even If You Don’t

BlogHer Original Post

One of the first things I did moving to California was to make a pilgrimage to Santa Monica Beach. I wanted to see the place where the fictional Dr. Marcus Welby would talk to his patients about not giving up, fighting for the next chance or saying yes to that one in a thousand treatment that could save their lives.

Dr. Welby would not rest until he found the reason for the condition, no matter that his solution was far out of his general practitioner area of expertise. He was all knowing, all caring and had the good sense to select Dr. Steven Kiley as a bit of eye candy.

Museum of Broadcast Communications Photo of Marcus WelbyMy fictional experiences with Dr. Welby did not prepare me for the real world of medicine. I met doctors who should have had their licenses yanked.

I’ve met jokers that were technically capable but had limited social skills.

Next to some of those quacks, television’s Dr. House is almost gracious.

And certainly, there are many good doctors that truly want to provide services to their patients but are being squeezed by insurance companies, HMOs, governmental regulations, a blizzard of paperwork and the cost of doing business.

The bottom line for my own protection, I need to be an informed consumer.

Be Your Own Dr. Welby

I have learned I have a responsibility to be an informed consumer of medical information and services. No, this isn’t about health care reform.

This is about being in control of your personal health history, what you have experienced and understanding concerning the various health stages of your life. You, and not necessarily the doctor, decide what you want and need in terms of your health. The health care provider is there to assist you in making choices and decisions.

There is an interesting website along those lines called “The Grand Unification Theory of Healthcare aka Gut Healthcare.” Dr. Rich talks about what is required in being an informed medical consumer:

The reason for learning as much as you can about your medical condition is not to become a doctor yourself, but merely to become confident and comfortable discussing your medical condition with one. If you have a good basic understanding of your medical problems, your doctor will not be speaking Greek to you anymore, but a language you should be able to follow. (If you still can't understand what he's saying, that ought to be a clue that he may actually be talking nonsense, either because he doesn't understand this stuff himself or he's just a poor communicator

Sound good but this can be very challenging when you do not have a medical doctor or access to health care. I know that challenge. It is one trying over the counter treatments, using county public health systems that are over burdened and if the problem is serious, the emergency room. People without access to health care have to be extra vigilant about keeping track of treatments and medications received.

It can be just as challenging when you do have access to a physician but you are restricted in how much time you have with the doctor, particularly if you are a member of an HMO or managed care. You can find yourself in a similar fight on setting appointments, permission for specialists and accessing follow-up care. I’ve gone a few rounds with managed care that can be demoralizing.

This is not acceptable. We need to claim our personal medical and health care power.

Time for Questions

One of the ways to claim your personal medical power is by asking questions of health care providers. Ask Me 3 is an on-going health literacy effort from the Partnership for Clear Health Communication and the National Health Safety Foundation. The goal is to improve the communication between the physician or health care provider and the patient.

You have the right to question what you are being told and to understand the instructions. Here are the questions:

  1. What is my main problem?
  2. What do I need to do?
  3. Why is it important for me to do this?

At the website you can download a copy of the patient brochure. There are various language versions such as English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian and Arabic. You might this this is simplistic.

Asking questions of medical providers is not easy. Many people really don’t understand the instructions that are given by their doctors. Not about dosage, frequency or what you can or cannot take with the medication. Robin Strongin at Disruptive Women writes about the cost of not taking medications as prescribed.

Many patients have cultural constraints about questioning an authority figure. And others folks have a great deal of difficulty in talking about sexual health issues. And frankly some (not many) of the medical providers aren't as skilled or competent as we want them to be. We need to be proactive about our health.

We have to ask to get what we want. What do we want? Better health care!

Doctor Carolyn Oliver’s Be A Cautious Patient has an interesting post about audio recording your meeting with the doctor. With permission folks, you can’t just record without consent. It is still a great idea for those people that forget what the doctor said five minutes after walking out of the office. You can watch a video of how a cancer center is implementing the audio recording for their patients by giving them digital recorders.

And if the doctor does not want to be recorded, when the time is right find another doctor.

Resources

Questions Are the Answer from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quantity is another good question resource. They don’t just have three questions, there are ten and I like them better. I always want to know any alternative to surgery. One of the features of the website that is very helpful is the Build Your Question List.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a page about medicines and medicine education. You can download a four page medicine record and reminder sheet on medications you or a love one are currently taking. Also from the U.S. government http://www.womenshealth.gov

Health Literacy Quiz from the U.S. National Library of Medicine has a simple quiz format to help you become acquainted with medical terms and terminology.

Gena Haskett is an Contributing Editor at BlogHer and writes at Out On the Stoop and Create Video Notebook

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