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Patient Directed Health is Essential

March 14, 2016 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Earlier today, I had a patient come in with an extensive history of tests and medications.

She’d seen many doctors, and had important blood work done about 5 months before she saw me.

The good news—she’d done her homework, and already had a plan for what she wanted to do going forward. She had some suspicions for what was ailing her, and wanted to work with me to improve her health.

The bad news—this patient had no idea she had diabetes. Through all the bloodwork and doctor’s visits, no one had bothered to tell her. That is, if in their rush, her previous doctors had even noticed it in the test results.

This is a recurring theme I see today. Over and over, I come across new patients that have no idea they have a condition—like diabetes—because their prior doctor never told them.

Thanks to changes in the healthcare system of America, more and more doctors are facing enormous pressure to see lots of patients. To get them in and out as fast as possible.

And that’s really bad for patient care.

Luckily, today, you have more power over your own healthcare than ever before. And it’s important you know what to look for—and why you will always make for your own best advocate.

Find a doctor who is a partner for your health

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine can’t find a doctor to see her? She peeked at her medical records, wound up getting labeled a trouble maker, and was blackballed by every doctor in New York.

How times have changed.

Today, it’s not bad to look at your own medical records. In fact, if you want to ensure proper healthcare, it’s imperative.

Simply put, for many doctors and hospitals, you aren’t a patient. You are a data point. You are the time it takes from entering the doctor’s office, to the time you’re ejected with a prescription in hand – and coded so your insurance company will pay the doctor the set rate for your visit.

And, in that framing, the more time you spend on a patient, the worse off the doctor’s practice is financially.

But good medicine isn’t measured by speed. It’s measured by effectiveness. And, oftentimes, effective medicine takes time.

That’s why I always devote whatever time necessary to each of my patients. I talk about each test that I order, and what it’s for. And when results come back, I talk about what each test result means, and what we can do to fix problems.

That’s what you want from your medical visits. If you are being treated like a cog, don’t accept it. Demand you receive proper care, and if your doctor won’t engage you in a real conversation about your health, find someone else who will.

Bring all the data to the table

However, truth be told, there’s only so much your doctor can do.

That’s because, even with the most attentive physician, you’re only there a fraction of the time.

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The most important thing isn’t what happens in the doctor’s office, but in the space between visits.

I’m referring to behavior. Yes, of course, eating right and exercising will make the biggest possible difference for your health.

But I’m also referring to information that only you have access to—things a doctor will only find out if you’ve been paying attention yourself.

It could be as important as waking up frequently during the night feeling nauseous. It could be a pain in the back or an uptick in headaches.

All of those symptoms could point to various maladies. But the important thing is, your doctor will have no idea there’s a problem unless you yourself have made the observations already.

So what’s the best way to take control of your own healthcare? I’m glad you asked.

1) Find a trusted doctor. As I mentioned above, some doctors will try to rush you in and out as fast as possible—possibly neglecting to pass along important information, and almost certainly missing anything that doesn’t immediately jump out in bloodwork.

You need a doctor that will work with you, hand in hand, to make you the healthiest version of yourself possible.

2) Take note of your own health. When you go see your doctor, you should have a list of questions at the ready.

Have you noticed your sleep patterns have shifted? Write that down—with as much detail as possible. Take note of how much less—or more—sleep you’re getting each night. And take note of how your sleep schedule has shifted, if it has.

Don’t forget to think about why, as well. For instance, if you started having problems with nausea or headaches, write down what you’ve eaten the previous meals. Write down any changes in routine, or if you’re suddenly spending more time in a new location.

This is information your doctor may need. And if you don’t have the answers, no one will.

3) Advocate for yourself. Usually, patients err on the side of caution. Most of us have a touch of hypochondria in us, and it’s easy to get scared that new symptoms are signs of a worrying sickness.

That’s rarely the case. But if you’re worried, say so. Your doctor may be able to tell you why there’s no need to worry.

Conversely, sometimes it makes sense to rule possibilities out, if only for peace of mind. Recently, I had a 47 year old man come to me requesting a heart scan. He showed no symptoms of heart problems, and didn’t profile as high-risk. He had simply heard about the test on the radio, and had started worrying after that.

For him, the $100 test was worth the end of worry.

If something has you concerned, talk about it with your physician. Oftentimes, the stress caused by worry is worse than the symptom itself.

The important thing is this: Take hold of your own health. Your doctor should be a partner in that journey, but ultimately, it’s up to you. Don’t skirt this responsibility—you are your own last line of defense.

References

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