Beacon Patient Advocates LLC: Helping You Navigate the Complexities of Healthcare
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Communicating Effectively With Your Doctor

By Ailene Gerhardt, Independent Board Certified Patient Advocate, Founder, Beacon Patient Advocates LLC

This article appeared in the Winter 2019 Issue of Disability Issues    (Vol. 39 No 1, Winter 2019) underwritten by Spaulding Rehabilitation Network

This article appeared in the Winter 2019 Issue of Disability Issues (Vol. 39 No 1, Winter 2019) underwritten by Spaulding Rehabilitation Network

Navigating today’s healthcare system can be complicated and challenging. To achieve the most effective outcome it is critical that healthcare consumers are engaged so that they receive quality care and treatment that aligns with their values and goals.

Being a “patient” is not a passive experience. Receiving effective care requires patients partner with their health practitioners in shared medical decisions. Patients should navigate their own healthcare with the knowledge that s/he is the most important member of her/his healthcare team.

To be able to advocate effectively for your care needs, it is useful to take inventory of your skills.

Are you:

  • Open to new information and perspectives?

  • Comfortable setting the agenda during your appointment and being proactive, organized, inquisitive, persistent, and direct?

  • Able to communicate clearly and listen fully?

Knowing what skills you bring to navigating your healthcare will give insight into what can be handled on your own and when you might need additional support and resources.

Being prepared maximizes your time during an appointment. Scheduling an interpreter, expressing needs regarding physical accommodations, or requesting a longer appointment should all be done in advance.  Knowing how your insurance plans works, what is covered, and what things will cost assists you in reducing the likelihood of experiencing unexpected medical costs.

It is essential to know who is treating you and what your options and rights are as a patient. It is critical to know about your medical history, your medications, your condition, chronic illness or disability.

Effectively communicating with your provider involves being prepared to take notes, be a decision maker, and being willing to refocus the conversation to meet your goals. It is helpful to repeat explanations and instructions you’ve been given back to your provider to confirm you understand the information correctly.

When preparing for a doctor’s appointment compile a list of prioritized questions and concerns, notes on symptoms, and new/unexpected medication reactions or side effects. Plan to review the list with your provider, with a focus on items that are the most important to you. Always be honest so that you receive the most effective treatment possible.

Compile contact information for all of your current healthcare providers, your medical history, and a comprehensive list of medications as well as over-the-counter supplements, eye drops etc. Make sure you bring assistive devices with you such as glasses, hearing aids, and mobility aids so that you do not encounter unnecessary barriers to good communication.

For quick and complete access to your healthcare information consider compiling all your health information into a “Healthcare Binder.” This makes it easier to “grab and go” and take the information with you. While it is useful to have information stored in electronic health record systems, not all systems interact with each other.

Consider bringing someone with you to your appointments. This person - a family member, friend, or professional patient advocate – can be an extra set of eyes and ears, prompt you regarding questions you have, and take notes during your appointment so that you can focus on listening and sharing your priorities and concerns. While having someone with you can be very helpful, it is important to remember s/he is there to support you and should play a supporting role, unless you ask for otherwise.

If you are not able to bring someone with you, ask your provider if you can record parts of your appointment when explanations, options, or instructions are being given. This gives you the option to capture accurate information and review it in the comfort of your own home.

When discussing your condition, disability, or diagnosis, ask effective questions about what is being suggested as well as why it is being suggested. Why something is being suggested helps clarify the diagnosis and suggested treatment options and approach.

Before leaving an appointment, review goals, next steps, follow up actions including tests, specialist visits, new prescriptions, and confirm how to best follow up with your provider with any questions you may have. Make sure your provider knows your communication preferences (email, portal, phone call) and ask for reliable resources for learning more about anything discussed at your appointment.

Make sure to file your notes and test results after your appointment, schedule follow up appointments, and pick up new prescriptions.

To be an effective self-advocate, it is critical to arrive prepared with a prioritized list of concerns, accurate health records, and the intent to take good notes, ask good questions, and push for answers.

It is essential to have a team mindset and approach to your healthcare. You are the main focus and the most important member of your healthcare team. Remember there are 2 experts in the room when you meet with your provider. S/he bring medical knowledge and expertise. You are the most knowledgeable about your body and needs. At an appointment, listen to your instincts, use your voice, be persistent and get the answers you need to make informed decisions.

By being engaged in your healthcare, you will feel you have a greater sense of understanding, knowledge, and control which can lead to better outcomes.