You just waited two hours for a doctor who’s running late. Once in the office, the doctor zips through a jargon-filled speech, orders a test, writes a prescription and sends you on your way. You leave in a cloud of confusion, realizing that you never even asked a question.
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Don’t accept this. It’s the worst-case scenario of patient care. Your experience as a patient matters more than ever — not only because we want you to be well but also because evidence and outcomes are driving healthcare like never before.
You have rights, including the right to participate in your care rather than being a passive patient. Start with these 10 expectations. Make sure your doctor:
1. Understands where you are
Your doctor should not just lecture you about losing weight, quitting smoking or undertaking some other lifestyle change. He or she should understand where you are in the process. Are you ready to work on a weight-loss plan? Have you gotten serious about quitting tobacco? Your willingness makes a difference. Without it, success is unlikely.
“If you say you want a second opinion and your doctor balks, it’s not a good sign. You have a right to a second opinion.”
David Longworth, MD
Chairman, Medicine Institute
2. Values your time — and respects you
Remember the waiting room example above? Unless there’s been an emergency, it shouldn’t happen. Doctors and staff should run an office that values your time and plans accordingly. Also, if you say you want a second opinion and your doctor balks, it’s not a good sign. You have a right to a second opinion, and your doctor should respect that.
3. Makes decisions with you, not for you
Doctors should recognize that you know your body and your life, and you must be a part of any decisions. If your doctor orders a test that makes you uneasy, talk it through until you understand the implications. If your doctor offers a treatment you don’t understand, ask questions until you do.
4. Actively listens
We all know what a rushed appointment feels like. It’s not beneficial to anyone involved. Your care team should always listen to you without making you feel rushed — and without interrupting you. But be prepared for a doctor to challenge your assumptions; part of active listening is active responding.
5. Looks at the big picture
Great physicians want to know what’s happening beyond your health. When they ask about your personal life, they’re not just making small talk. Knowing about depression, domestic problems and stress factors is important. All of these things can affect your health. Medicine is about more than just what symptoms you have on the day of an appointment.
6. Keeps money in mind
This is especially important if you’re paying out of your pocket. Doctors should take your financial situation and insurance coverage into account so you aren’t hit with bills you can’t afford. If you have a question about whether a certain test or procedure is necessary or covered, do not be afraid to ask.
7. Tells you what things mean
Jargon presents a big problem during an appointment. Your doctor should always take the time to explain what terms mean, and whether they refer to conditions, tests, treatments or something else. If you don’t understand, keep your doctor talking until you do.
8. Gives you access to your records
You should not have to wait weeks for test results — and then have to prompt a doctor’s office to receive them. Electronic health records are not perfect, but they do make communication and access simpler than ever. Your doctor should make sure you have access to the information you need.
9. Is transparent
When it comes to your treatment, avoid mysteries. Your doctor’s office should inform you about how much every aspect of care will cost. Your doctor should be open about his or her experience treating your condition, as well as the success rates — and risk — of any potential procedures.
10. Encourages you to bring help
If everything above is done properly, you will have a lot of information to absorb. It’s smart to bring a spouse, other loved one or friend to your appointments. This advocate can take notes, ask questions and look out for your rights and needs in general. Your doctor should not only allow this; your doctor should encourage it.