Human Being Manual

Taking a Central Role in Your Own Healthcare

Here are some things a patient can do to be more of a central participant in their healthcare:

  1. Treat every medical appointment like an important meeting. Think about your questions, read about your condition, think about your goals for the appointment.
  2. Write the questions and concerns you have and bring them with you to each appointment with a clinician. 
  3. Let your clinician know at the beginning of the appointment what your goals are. Even if there isn’t time to address all your goals, you can agree upon the most important ones and make another appointment to address the rest at a later time. Some clinicians welcome patient emails to answer questions that occur between visits. You can ask if this is part of the physician’s practice.
  4. Ask the clinician to allow you to repeat the information he or she shared so that you know whether you understood it AND whether the clinician explained it to you correctly. This is called ‘teachback’.
  5. Write the information you need to remember in a notebook you keep. This notebook should be dedicated to all things related to your medical visits. 
  6. Keep a copy of all your medical test results in a looseleaf notebook or folder. This is a parallel medical record. It’s important to have a parallel record, so that if you want to go to a doctor for a second opinion, you don’t have to gather everything together under time pressure.
  7. For emotionally charged appointments, bring a relative or friend who can help take notes or support you. When discussions are charged, it’s hard to remember what was said.
  8. It’s hard to disagree with your clinician if you have a different point of view. One way to do this is to ask him or her to explain their thinking. If you still disagree, ask if it’s ok if you can explain your different perspective. This often leads to a good discussion where the physician is in a better position to provide you with more tailored treatment. I’ve learned an enormous amount about how to be a better doctor when a patient disagreed with me.
  9. If your doctor is consistently defensive or rigid about their thinking and you feel this is depriving you of the care you’d like to get, you can seek a second opinion. 

If you do all of this, you’ll be in a better position to positively impact your own medical care.