Rx for a Better Conversation with Your Healthcare Team

Have you ever felt yourself lost in the healthcare system, unclear about what’s going on with your treatment plan? It’s not uncommon for patients to feel stonewalled by their doctors, nurses, or receptionists. It may seem like your medical team is so focused on moving along your care that they forget to include you in the conversation!

Advocate for your health care

Unfortunately, excluding the patient from important conversations occurs more frequently with elders. But when it comes to managing your health care, advocacy, whether done by self or another, is an important and necessary skill. Elders today grew up in a culture where the doctor always “knows best.” But the medical world has changed drastically over the past fifty years. No longer is it wise — or safe — to assume your medical professionals are able to carefully track your personal health issues.

In the healthcare arena nowadays, it’s essential that you be proactive, speak up, and ask questions. Otherwise, you risk being invisible to them. Symptoms can be unpredictable, bodies can be unique, and in order to receive accurate diagnosis and treatment, we must insist that doctors listen closely.

Know your goal

Before you meet with any of your medical team, it’s important for you to be clear on what you hope to learn as a result of the visit. Do you want help determining the cause of some new symptom? Do you need to better understand the justification for a suggested course of treatment or medication? While with your doctor, clearly explain why you are there and what you want to get from the meeting.

Prepare in advance

For your healthcare professionals to best support your well-being, they need information from you. For example, if you have been experiencing new symptoms that alarm you, track them before you go in for your appointment. Have a list in writing of what’s been going on. Include dates, symptoms, ways you managed the symptoms, and any details that may help your doctor better assess your situation.

Explore your options

After you’ve stated your goal and described your concerns, explore possible causes and courses of action. Rather than passively listening to your doctor, be proactive. Ask questions, discuss pros and cons of possible treatments. Share your concerns, whether they are about costs, recovery time, medications, or outright fear of the unknown. Speak up, ask questions, and take notes.

Learn from others

One question that I always ask my doctor is “What would you do if you were in my position?” It would be convenient if decisions were black or white, but mostly there are more ways than one to go. We need to tap into what feels right for us. We also can gather information from others. Talk to friends or acquaintances who have gone through the same procedure.

Coordinate your health team

Strengthen your health team by sharing your feelings and concerns and asking for support. Tap the knowledge of your entire health team. Doing this empowers you to be your own health advocate. The more engaged you are in your own healthcare decisions, the better your healthcare outcomes will be.

Don’t let fear get in your way

A client of mine was recently hospitalized following a fall that fractured two vertebrae. The nurses gave her medication without explaining what it was for and administered procedures she did not understand. My client became fearful and anxious, setting off a pattern of resistance. She refused to cooperate, which built tension and complicated communication. Once she started to speak up and say how she felt and ask vital questions, the hospital staff rallied and treatment went smoothly.

Get help when you need it

Sometimes it may be too hard to adequately represent yourself when you are in the center of critical decisions and strong emotions. You may need a healthcare advocate to help navigate the medical system and understand health issues. A professional advocate can help in many ways:

  • Attend medical appointments with you, talk with doctors and medical team, and ask the right questions

  • Deal with billing and find healthcare resources

  • Coordinate in-home or other special care

  • Keep track of medications, interactions, and side effects

  • Manage transitions from home to hospital to skilled nursing to assisted living and back home

An advocate provides emotional support and possibly better outcomes for your medical care, including saving on medical expenses. Whether it’s an outside professional or you do it yourself, medical advocacy is vital to ensuring your healthcare team works together for your quality care.