As a few wise men have said, “the greatest wealth is health”. We all know the difference good health can make to our quality of life. Of course, it can even be a matter of life and death. Practicing a healthy lifestyle and preventative care help you have a full, healthy life. But, what happens when you’re facing health issues? And, why is it that outcomes vary so widely for similar conditions? Most importantly, how can you make sure you get the best results?
Precious Little Time to Address Your Health Concerns
Your time with the doctor can change your life, for better or worse. And, unfortunately, that time can be very limited. On average, doctors spend just 15 minutes with patients. This has actually improved very slightly and is better in the U.S. than many countries. However, that 15 minutes is not much when you consider the importance of that time to your life.
And, you have to consider that much of the time may involve the doctor examining you, completing paperwork and handling other tasks. So, the meaningful time to discuss your symptoms, treatment options and questions may be less than eight minutes. At the same time, treatment regimens are more complicated and recommended tests/screenings have skyrocketed.
The Reality of Doctor-Patient Communication
- When asking patients questions, doctors interrupted them on average 23 seconds into their first answer.
- As many as 80% of medical errors result from miscommunications.
- In one study, only about 20% of patients reported satisfactory communication with their surgeon.
Research has proven this lack of communication often leads to poor medical results. Patients don’t understand their condition or treatment protocol. If they aren’t able to sufficiently describe symptoms, they can be misdiagnosed or the treatment plan might not suit their needs. One study showed fewer than half of patients even knew their diagnosis when they left the hospital!
Making the Most of Your Eight Minutes
Prepare ahead of time.
Make notes of symptoms and concerns as you experience them. Try to note frequency and related issues. Prepare a list of questions. Be realistic about what you can cover in the alloted time. You may want to fax/email some information ahead of time or talk to the nurse about your concerns. They may be able to set more time aside or prepare the doctor with information in advance.
Come with an updated list of diagnoses, medications and treatments. Help your doctor help you by providing all the information. If you don’t come prepared, you can waste precious minutes just thinking of questions or trying to remember things. Being able to hand the doctor an updated medical profile saves time for you to address your concerns and discuss options. Even better, you can create and maintain an up-to-the-moment online medical file. (You can contact our care managers for help.)
Find the right doctor.
If your doctor rushes or interrupts, it may be time to switch. Also, determine if you need a specialist. Find someone experienced in your condition. You want a doctor who keeps up-to-date on the best treatments and latest research. Get recommendations. Don’t hesitate to get second opinions.
Bring your patient advocate.
Have someone by your side to keep things on track. Talking about scary health issues can be emotional. Many people can’t process information in the shock of getting a diagnosis. You can ask a family member or friend to be with you when possible. However, remember that they too may be emotional. (Many times our own team members have hired professional advocates to help their family members because of this.) And, some people handle these situations better than others.
Often, a professional patient advocate will be your best bet. They’re experts at navigating the medical system. They can even help you find the best specialists for your needs and do research. A patient advocate can organize your medical information, coordinate providers/appointments and serve as a liaison to ensure good communication. It’s a sure way to get the best outcomes from your medical care.
If you’re a long-distance caregiver, consider hiring a care manager patient advocate to attend your loved one’s appointments. They can also be there to coordinate and communicate with everyone in a crisis. Just imagine the difference it makes when Mom has someone by her side at the ER who knows her history and information. This also applies to everyday appointments, especially for a client with any memory issues. If Dad gives vague reports from the doctor or doesn’t seem to understand his treatment, it’s likely time for a patient advocate. It can come as a big relief to both you and Dad (and his doctors). Care coordination reduces unnecessary crises. It can change (or save) your life.
Take notes and review.
Take notes during the visit. You can even ask the doctor if you can use a voice recorder (most smartphones have them) to record the visit. Review your notes afterward. Then, contact the nurse or send an email to the doctor with any questions/clarifications.
Want better outcomes?
Hire a patient advocate to conduct a medical review, put together your health file, and attend doctor's appointments.