There is a growing sense of comradeship or equality in doctor-patient relationships. Although you may still want the doctor to be in charge of your case, ultimately you are responsible for your own health. Your doctor may put you on a diet, but it is up to you to carry it out. Your doctor may suggest or prescribe certain treatment such as exercise, medication, or stress management, but you will determine the use of these methods. Realistically, you can expect the following:
- You have a right to be treated with dignity and respect.
- You have the right to feel comfortable under your doctor's care.
- You certainly have the right to be heard. If your doctor does not have enough time and interest to listen to you, (with reason) then may be he or she has too many patients. You need to remember, however, that doctors are not trained counselors. If you need a lot of listening and guidance about life problems, a referral to a trained counselor is appropriate and helpful. This kind of suggestion does not mean that your doctor does not care for you. Often, this kind of referral may give you some mental satisfaction.
- Doctors are not miracle workers and to believe that they are able to cure everything that ails you is unrealistic.
- Doctors are human beings, and sometimes they make mistakes or they do not give the exact response that you want.
- Your doctor will not always have the answer. Sometimes doctors simply do not know 'why' and they should tell you so in those cases.
- Your doctor should have a good working knowledge of normal aging changes versus illness and how they relate to your health in particular is very important.
Ask yourself the following questions about your doctor:
- Is your doctor willing to listen to and answer your questions?
- Does your doctor have your thorough medical history?
- Are you reasonably comfortable talking with your doctor about your personal matters?
- Do you believe that your doctor will persevere no matter how difficult your problems are?
- Does your doctor deal with the problem rather than automatically prescribing medicine?
- Do you trust your doctor?
If the answer is 'no' to most of these questions, then be more assertive in getting these needs met. Talking with your doctor about these concerns is the starting point even if it raises your blood pressure.
If the answer is 'yes' to most of these questions, chances are that you have a good working relationship with your physician.
If you feel you need to improve your doctor-patient relationship, here are a few hints that should be of help.
- Make a list of your questions, concerns and anxieties. When you visit your doctor, take the list with you.
- Repeat the questions in case you have not understood the answer. Ask for clarification of words that are unfamiliar to you.
- Take another person whenever possible to help clarify and back you up, but speak yourself.
Self-care does not mean operating as a lone ranger. Some experts fear that the emphasis on self-care means that people will not seek proper medical advice. Studies have shown that the opposite is true. People who practice self-care are assertive and conscious about medical care. People who take more responsibility for their health make better patients. Neither too much dependence nor too much independence is the answer. A proper balance of the two will lead to a more helpful and healthful relationship with your doctor and the whole medical system.
Only you can decide to seek medical care. Admitting to yourself that, like all of us, you cannot solve all of your health problems yourself is a strong and independent thing to do. Once you have found a doctor with whom you feel comfortable, do what he or she suggests or prescribes. Never stop or change your medicine without first checking with your doctor. If you are having problems with your medication, adjustments can be made that may clear up your concerns. Many medicines have side effects and produce profound chemical changes that could be dangerous. Confiding in your doctor is the most important and easiest way to finding the right medical care and medications for you.
As you grow older, decisions about medical care increase. The more information you have, the better. However, the media brings massive amounts of information into your home about new medical trends and it can be overwhelming and confusing. It is important to talk to your doctor about your confusion.
At times, you may need a non-emergency surgery. Discuss it with your doctor to gain as much information as possible so that you can feel comfortable with your decision. Before agreeing to any non-emergency surgery, try to answer the following questions yourself:
- What does the doctor think is the matter with you?
- What specific surgical procedure does the doctor recommend?
- What are the alternative treatments for this condition?
- What are the possible benefits?
- What are the risks?
- What is involved in the recovery, and how long will it take?
- What are the costs, and the amount that will be covered under insurance?
What will happen if you do not have the operation?
The answer to these questions will give you enough information to make a conclusive decision. If you are still uncomfortable about proceeding with surgery, get another opinion. A second opinion should never be used to delay an emergency operation or to play games with your doctor, but most doctors approve of patients getting a second opinion and will work with you in doing so.
Be sure you have collected your medical records from your doctor to be taken to the second doctor for diagnosis. Tell the second doctor the name of the surgical procedure and any tests that you know have been done. If the second doctor agrees with the recommendation, you will be sent back to your own doctor for the operation. If the second doctor disagrees with your doctor, then you may have enough information to make your decision, or you may want to go back and further discuss the situation with your doctor. In some cases, you may want to seek a third opinion. Remember, it is your body and you have a right to make decisions concerning your well-being.
Another way to stay in charge is to know your health care professionals. There are many well trained health professionals who can be very useful to you in many ways. Pharmacists, dietitians, nurses, specialists, physiotherapists, respiratory therapists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists, pastoral counselors, social workers and many others who are readily available to assist you and your doctor in meeting your medical needs. They all have expertise in specific areas and can be valuable components in giving medical opinion. Most doctors value a working relationship with other professionals as they cannot be all-in-one to all patients.