how to be a better patient

How to be a better patient

Do’s and don’ts to help you get the most out of your patient-physician relationship
April 1, 2016

We expect proficiency and efficiency from our health care providers—and we’re always in search of the perfect physician to listen to our concerns, understand our needs and address the problem at hand. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the patient-physician relationship is actually a two-way street. To prevent impeding a physician’s ability to give you the best care possible, there are a few do’s and don’ts patients should abide by.

Don’t be dishonest

“Patients who are not completely honest with their health care provider is one of the biggest problems in a patient-physician relationship,” said Jerry Livingston, Ph.D., M.S.N., RN, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. “Physicians make their diagnosis based off of subjective and objective data. Subjective data is what you, the patient, tell them. When patients leave out symptoms—or don’t divulge all the information about their condition—it hinders a doctor’s ability to help you.”

Don’t show up late, or, without a complete list of your medication

We all become frustrated when our 9 a.m. appointment leaves us stuck in a waiting room and unable to actually see our doctor until an hour or two later. Behind the scenes, there are many factors that lead up to this irritating scenario. In addition to seeing patients at their primary care clinic, most physicians also have hospitalized patients, and they must make their hospital rounds first before coming in to the office.

Livingston said patients should remember to always be mindful and respectful of a physician’s time. “When you show up late for an appointment, this may cause delayed appointments for the rest of the day,” he said. “Also, coming in without a complete list of your medications is something you should never do. That 15 minutes the doctor spent compiling a list of your medications absolutely adds up and can further perpetuate the cycle of late appointments.”

Don’t be unwilling to follow your plan of care

If you are unwilling to carry out a doctor’s orders, it’s certainly not good news for your health. “It’s extremely counter-productive to visit a physician and then chuck their advice out the window,” Livingston said. “I always teach our students to ask patients if they can accomplish the instructions a physician offers. Issues with access to care can affect this, so it’s important to be informed about a patient’s voluntary or involuntary unwillingness to follow protocol.”

Don’t be afraid to tell your physician if you are unable to follow a plan they lay out. Be upfront and honest about your concerns. They want to partner with you in your journey to better health and will make reasonable accommodations.

Don’t quit your medication—unless advised to by your physician

A physician prescribes you antibiotics for a sinus infection—with 10 days worth of pills—and strict instructions to finish the medication. But, by day three, you’re feeling improved and decide you don’t need to continue the antibiotic. You’re feeling better, right? It’s safe to say we’re all guilty of doing this at some point in our life.

“This happens a lot—whether it’s because we voluntarily stop taking the medicine or simply forget to continue taking it after we feel better,” Livingston said. “Unless specifically instructed by a health care provider, you should always finish any medication prescribed to you.”

Do provide a complete medical history at your appointments

Did you get a tonsillectomy when you were a baby? What about having your wisdom teeth out in high school? According to Livingston, even trivial information like this needs to be included in your medical history.

“Sometimes you may not be able to remember everything that’s happened in the past,” he said. “Ask your parents and make a list of any procedures done. Cataract surgery counts, too. It’s better to err on the side of giving a doctor too much information than not enough. They can sift through it and decide what is or isn’t relevant.”

Do ask your doctor questions and request clarification

“Never be afraid to ask your doctor questions,” Livingston said. “Always be willing to quiz them if you don’t understand the plan of care or have concerns about your diagnosis. If you leave and don’t fully comprehend your situation or the plan of action to treat it, then you’ve wasted your visit.”

Do follow up

Livingston said closing the loop with your doctor in the form of follow-up appointments is often crucial to your health and treatment options. If your physician asks you to schedule a follow-up appointment, it’s often because there may be certain things he/she is looking for to further assess your condition—such as additional testing or labs. You should never blow off these requests as arbitrary.

Do find a physician you like and stick with them

Networking is key—even in a physician-patient relationship. Your primary care physician will be your medical “home” and finding someone you are comfortable with can allow your relationship to span decades.

Building a long-term relationship with your doctor will ensure you get the best quality care possible,” Livingston said. “You want your physician to know you, in the sense that as soon as they see your chart, they can recall details about you and your medical history.”

Do take responsibility for your health

Your health hinges on making smart, informed decisions to prevent sickness, and Livingston said the biggest piece of advice he gives patients is to take charge of their health in order to rely less on doctors. “Doctors can only do so much for you,” he said. “But, if you do get sick, we are here to help. Maintaining your health then falls on you to take responsibility and comply with your physician’s plan of care.”

— Lauren Thompson

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