I just read Ellen's great post on a Physician's 10 Commandments over on WEGO Health. The list is very comprehensive and made me realize that many people could benefit from reading this perspective. In keeping with this theme, I thought I'd add to the great conversation by creating the Patient's version -- The Patient's Decalogue. Decalogue is the greek word for "10 thoughts." Here's my top 10 Rules for Patients:
The Patient's Decalogue
- Always be prepared: What's the best to ensure you get excellent care? Go to your appointments prepared to ask questions.
- Ask questions: Don't take everything your doctor says at face value. If you don't understand a term or a recommended course of action, ASK about it. If you're not comfortable with a decision or procedure, you are entitled to discuss everything with your doctor or nurses before making any decision.
- Never leave an appointment confused or upset: When dealing with your doctor, make sure you leave an appointment with all the information you need. Appointments can be stressful at times, but make sure you don't leave the doctor's office confused or upset. Do the best you can to make sure you understand everything that's going on - right down to the routine tests or scans you might need.
- Don't be afraid to seek out a second opinion: - Every great doctor knows that patients should be expected to and sometimes will seek out second opinions. My doctors have always encouraged me to seek out second, even third opinions when dealing with my cancer diagnoses over the years. My respect for my core team of doctors have grown over the years as I've watched them restate their beliefs that, ultimately, the patient must be happy with their course of treatment, no matter who makes the final decision. Doctors that understand this and accept this make dealing with any health condition much easier to handle.
- Be honest: If a doctor asks if you take herbal supplements, make sure you tell them. Don't tell the docs that you take your vitamins, or prescribed drugs if you don't do that. I can't believe the number of patients that feel this "isn't a big deal!" It's a great, big deal. If you tell your docs that you "exercise everyday" or "take those multi-vitamins" and don't; you could be setting yourself up for some serious health care problems. Be open and be honest. Your doctors are there to help you - as uncomfortable or embarrassing as it might be to talk openly about a health concern, if you're not honest, it makes it difficult for the doctors to do their jobs!
- Speak up: This is very similar to point #2. If in doubt, ask questions and speak up! Your opinion counts too. Keep in mind, as the patient, eveyone's there for you. Everyone's ultimate goal is your health. If you don't get the feeling that your medical team is there to help you, it may be time to move on. It's your life, and your health!
- Have a family member or friend go with you: If you have concerns about recording or remembering key pieces of information discussed during your appointment, bring a family member or friend to act as your helper or note taker. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, I brought my husband with me to all appointments (he was my boyfriend at the time!) to take notes. He took incredible notes and recorded many bits of information I didn't recall at later dates. When dealing with a new diagnosis, you may be overwhelmed at the information being tossed out during your appointment time. Don't be afraid to ask the doctors to slow down and explain what you want to understand.
- Talk about your pain: Chronic pain is often overlooked and dismissed by many health care professionals. It's difficult to quatify, making conversations about pain stressful for some patients and caregivers. If you're in pain, talk about it. Tell your doctor. Don't dismiss your own feelings - you owe it to yourself to always seek out the best, most comprehensive care.
- Be respectful: Respect the people there to help you. Being respectful goes a long way to help you form key relationships with your doctors, nurses, and medical team.
- Thou shalt not google excessively, compulsively, or with reckless abandon: This is a big one! I've fallen for this one a few times myself. Just because you can check out any and every health condition by running a search "on The Google" doesn't mean it's a good idea. When looking for information online, stick to the key sites. For cancer, I always start at The National Cancer Institute - cancer.gov. While searching the depths of the web might help you uncover all the information you think you need, it's still a wide open space, with little regulation on content. Keep that in mind when printing off reams of information to drag into your doc's office. [Yes, I've done that before...]
I've used these rules as my guidelines over the past years and I think they've served me well. What would you add?! Please feel free to add your thoughts. Tell me what guides you as a patient!