Being a knowledgeable patient

Tomorrow is my expected due date. I am still at home, pregnant. My doctor told me I am not due in for a visit until Wednesday. I am reading a book in peace.  At work,  my workload is less but I am still actively working from my home office.

During these final weeks, my son has been very agreeable and pleasant. His speech skills has really advanced. His plays, the way he imitates, his interest in books and music surprise us as parents and entertain us very muchat the same time. When he is not sitting with me and not reading a book, he spends his energy by playing football with his dad. He goes to bed and falls asleep on his own at night. He loves helping us at home, as usual. We set the table for breakfast all together, we do the laundry together in the new front-load washer machine he loves. We watch our little baby, in amazement, to see how fast he is growing up.

Since I can’t do that much at home, there isn’t anything new I can write about being a practical mama. So I decided to write about being knowledgeable patient and how to benefit from the health system the best way that we can.

When I say patient, I don’t mean having a serious health problem. I am talking about general patient and doctor relationship. For example, I am not sick, I am pregnant and I am my doctor’s client/patient and visit him regularly with my son for checkups. Of course sometimes we have to go the hospital because we are very sick.  In both situations, we have to do certain things in order to avoid being a victim and guarantee satisfaction.

One of my friends, who is a doctor herself, once told me that doctors here assume that pregnant women do read, research and learn about pregnancy in advance. Since I am someone who enjoys researching, this sounded very normal to me. Of course not everyone is same. There are some people, who entrust their health to their doctors with no questions asked.  I think this is a bit risky these days, especially when we have all the resources available to us. We need to be very aware and conscious, and do our due diligence and take certain precautions in advance. Below are some of the steps towards being a knowledgeable patient, according to my experiences:

1-Knowing our body well

Listening to our bodies closely is the most important responsibility we have. This does not mean becoming hypochondriac but since our bodies is the most valuable property we own, we need to be little more careful about it.

We need to pay attention to visible changes or changes we can feel. We should not place our health on shelf. We live at an age where most of the diseases are curable and preventable if diagnosed at early stages. In order to understand the signs, we need to open our ears and eyes to our internal and external signals wide open.

2-Being  knowledgeable about  healthcare system, doctors and insurance.

Wherever we live, it is crucial that we know about the health care system, insurance as well as doctors. I don’t mean just knowing where the hospital is, whether you have your insurance card with you or not or whether you have emergency phone numbers listed on your refrigerator by this. Of course it is important to do these things as well. But what I really mean is to know our rights as patients. It means before things happen, reading, researching and knowing things so that you don’t have to panic or get confused on whether to use insurance or social security or how much to pay for medication or how much you will pay for the emergency visit or what Medicaid and Medicare means, what it entails or who will circumcise your son, will it be the obstetrician or pediatrician. On day you will be running after things like how much the hospital wants, are the extras doctors ask for legal, are there any differences between the brand name medications or generics. It is even more painful to try to learn these, only when we or a member of our family gets really sick.

3-Online resources

Websites such as http://www.webmd.com/ or http://www.babycenter.com/  provide very useful information such as “what to ask a doctor” and “how can you help them make a better diagnosis“. There are also certain discussion groups or forums that provide information for certain health problems and diseases. There are certain things to be careful about when researching in the endless pool of information on the web.  Not all the information out there is correct. For this reason, you need to verify the validity of these sources.  At the end of my post, you can find certain reliable links to websites on health.

4-References

According to my experiences, good and considerate references are great for finding the right doctor. You can receive references from friends who happen to be doctors, from doctors who you worked with in the past and were happy with, from family and friends, through surveys or from 3rd parties measuring hospitals’ and doctor’ performances.

Make sure though, your friends and family are not just friends with the doctors they recommended but in fact they have been seen by that doctor and are happy with him or her.  Receiving direct references might not be possible due to patient doctor confidentiality. However, think twice before you go to a dentist who was suggested to you by a coworker whose brother in-law’s neighbor from their summerhouse went to.

5-Expectations

Don’t expect a miracle from your doctor in one hour, but expecting a timely, personal, attentive care from your doctor is your right. Make sure your doctor is listening to you. Make sure your doctor in whom you entrust the most important estate you own in life, listens to you carefully and that he or she explains everything clearly and in details to you the things you need to do and know. If your doctor does not like being asked questions, keeps looking at his or her watch every five seconds and if he or she is not listening you, I don’t care how well known he is in the medical field or whether he is a distinguished professor, think twice before you go back to him.  Do not try to get an appointment from doctors who have high opinion of themselves due to having been flattered a lot. Pay attention to see, when he or she is seeing you, whether he or she is using gloves, whether he is disinfecting his hands before touching you or whether his apparatus’ are sterile or not.

6-Ask Questions

When you go see a doctor, he or she asks you questions, you answer, he explains his diagnosis and suggests a treatment . Sometimes he or she refers you to another doctor if necessary.  If the diagnosis is something you are not familiar with, research on it. If you have studied it in advance, ask your questions to your doctor, ask him why and how?  After the appointment, if you still have questions, call him, leave him a message with his questions and ask him to you back.

7-Do not feel dependent or responsible

If you do not feel comfortable about something, before you take another step, consult a second or even a 3rd doctor’s opinion.  Especially pregnant women or mothers should not hesitate to change doctors if they are not satisfied with their current doctor in any way.

8-Alternative treatment options

Don’t forget that these treatments could lead to two ways.  If you are someone who believes in positive energy and law of attraction and believe that alternative medicine options can heal you, it is more likely that these options will help you heal. But remember some of these people claiming to provide alternative therapy options with no prior education aim to take your money not help you heal.  Do not take any and every pill which has not been approved by the ministry of health or FDA without questioning the ingredients just because someone told you how good it was.

9-Will, organ donor, keeping someone alive, resuscitation

Always be ready for the worst case scenario. Especially if you have children make sure to have written legal documents pertaining to your will, donating your organs, resuscitation and being kept alive. Don’t have to think about it at critical times.

10- Records and documents

Here in United States, to protect themselves, doctors and hospitals make patients sign bunch of paperwork before operations. These documents are good since they tell you all the risks involved in detail. When I was in labor for my son and when the pain was unbearable from my belly to my brain, my anesthetist explained me in details the risks of epidural and made me sign the related paperwork. I had read the risks of epidural before and at that time due to the pain, there was nothing to comprehend.  But of course, if she just had put the needle in and something happened, I had a chance of saying I did not know.

Of course, God forbid, if one of the risks materialized, I would not just sit and say, “Oh yes, my doctor had told me about it.” The essence of this is to read everything carefully, understand fully the risks involved and ask questions.  If your doctor is going to provide you with a certain treatment, just the way he makes you sign certain paperwork to protect himself or herself from any complications that might occur, you do the same thing, you write down what he said and record it. Do not throw away the documents given to you.  Learn how to receive copies of medical documents, if you need to.

Be knowledgeable about insurances and hospitals. Keep records of all payments made to insurance companies and hospitals.

To keep it short, please take extra care while choosing your doctor just like how you pick a the repair shop you take your car to. Do not try to go for cheap, but also restrain from the brand name effect.

The resources I use:

Find a doctor
American Medical Association (AMA)
AMA Doctor Finder
American Board of Medical Specialties
American College of Physicians
American College of Surgeons
Family Doctor (American Association of Family Physicians)
Healthfinder
Medline Plus
Checkbook – Healthcare
The good dentist guide

Medical references
WebMD
Mayo Clinic
The Cleveland Clinic Health Information Center
Quackwatch Quackwatch is a nonprofit company formed by Dr. Stephen Barrett to expose health-related “frauds, myths, fads and fallacies”.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
American Medical Association
National Library of Medicine (NLM)
FDA

Women’s health
National Women’s Health Information Center

Children’s health
Kids’ Health
Dr. Greene
Baby Center
American Academy of Pediatrics
iVillage Pregnancy and Parenting
Virtual Pediatric Hospital

Other
You: The Smart Patient
Useful Health Sites List

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