Becoming A Good Patient

Have you ever been to the doctor’s office, and after waiting for an unusually long time, you see a patient storm out of the waiting room, shouting at the administrative staff about the wait? Or perhaps you’ve heard angry patients arguing with their doctor in the emergency room, their fear and stress is overtaken by indignation when the doctor’s diagnosis doesn’t match their suspicions? While sometimes these reactions are justified, many times they are the mark of a bad patient.

Beyond simply making life unpleasant for everyone within earshot, these types of patients can actually sabotage their own health. If they leave before they can get treatment, or refuse to follow a doctor’s advice because they don’t like their diagnosis, they could be putting themselves at risk. And if they are carrying something contagious, that puts everyone around them in danger as well.

So, while no one expects everyone to be sunshine and rainbows when they are feeling ill, there is something to be said for trying to be a good patient. If for no other reason appeals, consider how your own health will benefit when your doctor is able to perform their job well, and with plenty of time to truly consider your symptoms. Here are some ways that you can make yourself a better, more compliant patient the next time you visit the doctor.

1. Be Completely Honest

There may come a time when you find yourself embarrassed about your symptoms, or about what caused an injury, but your doctor has definitely heard it all. Even if they haven’t experienced something in person, they’ve heard stories from their fellow doctors, from medical school, and from the same news sources where you hear outrageous medical stories. A real professional will never make you feel ashamed of what happened; they’ll only treat the symptoms and work to get your health back.

At other times, you may feel that you can’t be honest because you know what you’ve been doing is wrong, or against their orders. For example, if your doctor asks if you take recreational drugs, your first instinct is to say no – even if you actually do. But if you do, and you aren’t honest about this, it could cause a life-threatening contraindication with a medicine that your doctor prescribes. There are actually laws in place that prevent your doctor from sharing this information, even if they are asked directly by the police, so you don’t have to worry about being “caught”.

The same idea goes for someone who eats an unhealthy diet and eschews all exercise: hiding the fact that you haven’t touched a green vegetable in a decade won’t change the fact that you are now dealing with diabetes, and by knowing your eating habits, your doctor will be able to help you work your way towards better ones with a plan that actually fits your lifestyle. Other things you should tell your doctor about – if you use any non-medical health treatments; if you visit therapists (like a chiropractor); and what your sexual history is like and is it relevant to the appointment.

2. Let the Staff Do Their Job

Nursing and support staff play a huge role in the healthcare industry. Many times people become abrasive when they don’t get to see the doctor until the very end of a visit, or if their illness is diagnosed and treated by a nurse without the visible input of a doctor at all. But there are many things that patients need to understand about the way that nursing and support staff operate.

First, if your doctor was responsible for gathering information like blood pressure, weight, a current medical history, and so on, from every single patient that walked in the door, they would never have time to perform life-saving procedures like surgery, testing for diseases and overseeing treatment.

Second, nurses have been through rigorous schooling, and are far more knowledgeable than culture may lead us to believe. Some nurses have the ability to prescribe medication and oversee treatment themselves. When you speak to a nurse about your symptoms and current medical history, they then act as your advocate to the doctor, giving a summary that highlights the important things so that your doctor can treat you properly. Without them, it would be much more difficult to get the right treatment.

The administrative staff is similarly important. Scheduling is a very difficult job because emergencies have to be given precedence. The administrative staff is also often called upon to fight insurance companies for payment on behalf of patients and to ensure that doctors and nurses are able to stay healthy themselves by keeping schedules in check.

3. Trust Your Doctor

If you don’t trust that your doctor is competent and skilled in their field, then you should be seeing a different doctor. At the end of the day, this is your health, and you are in control of it. Just as you wouldn’t take your car to get a tune-up from a mechanic you didn’t trust, you should never see a doctor whose advice you aren’t willing to follow.

Now, there is something to be said for seeking a second opinion, especially if a treatment or diagnosis is controversial, life-changing, or will be very expensive. There is nothing wrong with doing due diligence. Even for procedures that aren’t negative, such as giving birth, it’s important to find a doctor you are comfortable with.

But once you’ve settled on a physician, you should trust that they are giving you the best advice that they can, coming from an expert point of view, and follow it. This may be uncomfortable at times – for example, your doctor may tell you that you have to give up playing sports until your injury heals – but if you trust that they know what they are doing, then you have to take their word as gospel, and follow it in order to get better as fast as you can.

This goes for their support staff as well. Most doctors are very particular about who they will work with. Being a doctor is not just a career, but an extremely invasive way of life; doctors know that working with a good staff is the only way that they will ever find a balance to have their own life as well. So if you trust your doctor, then you should also trust that they have chosen great nurses and administrative staff to work with.

4. Understand that You Are Part of a Team

Your health belongs to you. You are its steward. When you boil it down to the most basic level, your doctor is an expert consultant that you have hired to help you properly take care of your health. As such, you should always remember that you are part of the team that is taking care of you.

This means that you do have certain rights when it comes to appointments and treatments. This is a collaboration, after all. You can ask for things to be explained in more clear language; you can bring up the possibility of other treatments; and while you probably shouldn’t turn to the Internet to diagnose your symptoms, you can and should consider learning all that you can about your illness, injury, or condition, so that you can be an active part in your care.

As part of your medical care team, one thing that you can do to make everyone’s job easier is to keep good medical records. Particularly if you have a history of allergic reactions to medications, or if you have a chronic illness, it’s important to keep track of exactly what happened before, during, and after your previous care. If you have a family history that includes rare disorders, it’s important to get as much information as you can from family members, or family records.

5. Don’t Wait till You Are Sick

Doctors don’t exist only to treat illnesses and injuries. In fact, regular wellness check-ups can help you, and your doctor, more than you know. You may be in perfect health, but by maintaining regular check-ups, you can develop a great medical records history that can be used when you are sick. You also establish a familiarity with your doctor that helps you relax and trust them when you are sick or injured.

Additionally, preventative care can lead to sooner diagnoses of illnesses. For many serious illnesses out there, the earlier you catch them, the easier it is to treat them. You may even find that your regular check up saves your life by revealing something that could have been deadly had you waited any longer.

When you are in your regular check ups, don’t be shy about asking questions. Ask how you can better manage stress, or how you can get better sleep if you have insomniac tendencies. Tell your doctor about your exercise and diet, and ask if there is anything else you should be doing to stay healthy. Doctors are fountains of knowledge, and you’d be surprised what you can learn simply by talking to them during times when you are healthy, alert and not so focused on your immediate health needs.

6. Manage Your Time (and Theirs!)

As much as you hate it when you are forced to wait in the lobby for hours after your appointment time, consider how much worse it must be to be behind the scenes during a “behind” day. Doctors and nurses aren’t sitting back there having drinks and telling stories; they are likely rushing around trying to provide quality care to patients who were late, or whose illness or injury turned out to be far worse than what was expected.

One way that you can help avoid these types of days, for everyone’s sanity, is to be on time yourself. And being on time for an appointment actually means that you should be there at least 15 to 20 minutes before your scheduled time, or even up to a half hour early if this is your first visit to this particular doctor. This is because you’ll need to fill out paperwork, have your vitals taken, and speak to the administrative staff and the nursing staff before you ever see the doctor. Remember, this is part of a process that ensures you get the best, most accurate care.

When you are in your appointment, there is definitely no reason you should ever feel rushed. Your doctor should give you their full attention, and you should feel comfortable bringing up any issues at all that you need to have looked at or discussed. However, you should also be mindful of their time, and don’t drag them into an irrelevant conversation. Once you understand the diagnosis and the instructions for treatment, and all of your concerns have been addressed, you should allow the doctor to move on to providing the next patient with great care.

Optimize Your Team for Great Health

Following these six steps will help you become a more compliant patient for your doctor, and that can mean a huge difference in your health care experience. While you probably would have gotten the same high-quality care, because your doctor is a professional bound by oath to take care of you, you can now be assured that your health is in the hands of a great team that works together.

The word patient means “one who suffers”, but you don’t have to have a horrible, suffering experience going to the doctor’s office. If you are polite, friendly, and even keep a sense of humor around you as you are getting treated, you’ll find that most people respond in kind. It’s easy to charm a harried nurse, or a busy doctor, with just a few kind words, simply because they don’t often receive smiles, or hear those words. And once you have everyone on the same team, you can focus on getting better – or not being sick in the first place.

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