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How to Be a Better Patient

I write this series because I’m both a doctor and a patient who wants to provide the best care for my patients and receive the best care from my doctors. Theoretically, being a better patient means doing my part in the patient-doctor relationship for it to go as smoothly as possible.

Before the eyes of your own doctor, there should never be a good patient, a better patient, a bad patient, or a wrong patient. But in the healthcare system, our actions, perspectives, and attitudes majorly impact our healthcare outcome.

1. Healthy Literacy

Health literacy is sifting through all of the health noise and understanding what is known in medicine and what remains unknown.

The best way to feel empowered and communicate well with your physician is to have as narrow a knowledge gap as possible. In fact, patients with chronic diseases often know more about their diseases than their physicians—that’s a good thing.

2. Empowerment

The empowered patient may feel intimidated by their doctor, but they don’t let that hinder their communication. This kind of patient speaks up for themselves or brings someone along who can ask the tougher questions.

Of course, you can never feel empowered if you have a condescending, belittling physician who doesn’t hear you.

3. Communication Skills

The physician sitting across from you is a human being. They just found out their son overdosed, that they owe back taxes, and that they need a repeat colonoscopy because one of the polyps came back suspicious.

Human beings get offended, overwhelmed, angry, sad, frustrated, and distracted. Your communication skills should be at their best when you interact with a physician.

But no matter how well you communicate, it takes 2 to have a proper conversation. Express yourself and be sure that you are in the presence of a physician who can give you the space to express yourself.

4. Asking the Right Questions

To express yourself and let down your guard, you need to feel heard. That means you should be able to ask the questions that are important to you. In medicine, there is never, ever a stupid question.

To be a better patient, your doctor has to believe that you are committed to your health. Asking for an antibiotic when you have a viral infection or asking for weight loss medication when your doctor explained that they wouldn’t change your long-term health may be the wrong questions to ask, but you definitely should feel comfortable asking them.

5. Questioning the Status Quo

Healthcare isn’t broken, but it has let down many patients and physicians. Standard medicine, or mainstream medicine, is considered to be a disease-based process that prioritizes health insurance profits over patient health.

To be a better patient it’s important to understand why your doctor may not be able to play their role as a fiduciary to you. The state medical board dictates how the doctor can practice medicine, not the doctor’s medical training.

6. Symptom Tracking

A patient who shows up to the doctor with multiple vague symptoms can become the victim of the defensive medical system where the doctor will order every possible test. This is not a good thing.

Sometime, your health just takes a turn for the worse, and you can’t even catch up with it; that’s understandable, and your doctor should have the utmost empathy for you and your condition.

However, sometimes a process has been going on for several months or years and the patient who has tracked, monitored, and documented their symptoms often gets much better care. This is part of patient empowerment.

7. Home Remedies

Your doctor will want to know what you tried at home or yourself before coming to the doctor. Of course, if you have a private physician who knows you and is a text or call away, then you can have this conversation asynchronously.

But most of the time, all parties are too busy to address everything as soon as it happens. To be a better patient, you have tried a few things and can add that to your symptoms tracking log above.

8. Exploring Resources

There are many resources online for all symptoms, diseases, and conditions. However, most of these resources are funded by the healthcare industry and are meant to medicalize your situation. Remember #5 from above.

However, you can ask questions on online forums, ask neighbors, family, and friends, and read research papers or books on a particular topic.

The patient who is suffering from migraines and who has read Heal Your Headache is going to have a very different experience from the patient who has a hard time even answering where the pain is located in the head (#6).

9. Second Medical Opinions

As from #8 above, exploring resources sometimes requires a second medical opinion. I am a virtual primary care doctor for my patients, but sometimes, their conditions are beyond my capabilities, and I need to refer them to specialists.

Recognizing that you need a second medical opinion is an important skill that sets some patients apart from others.

10. Seeking Your Truth

What does health mean to you? What do you expect your physician to do? Are you seeking a cure, a fix, a remedy, guidance, or a pill?

Each patient has different expectations and communicates and comprehends in their own unique way. Recognizing and honoring that will make you a much better patient and elevate the patient-doctor relationship.

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