With the New Year, many of us have an eye on new beginnings, from weight loss and increased exercise to work productivity strategies. Maybe you’re even thinking about how to take better care of yourself.
One important self-care strategy is related to your healthcare. 2015 is the year patients and their advocates/caregivers can do their part to increase the quality of care, maximize the time with doctors and nurses, and increase their chances of accurate diagnoses and safe medical encounters.
Healthcare is becoming even more complex with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and many providers have even less time to spend with patients. This means that if we want higher quality care, we must be proactive and partner with our providers. If we actively participate in care, discuss treatment options with our doctors and nurses, and share in decisions, we are more likely to experience successful, pleasant and safe medical encounters.
10 strategies to help you in the coming year.
1. Get organized. Gather copies of of pertinent medical records such as MRI, CT scan, blood test results, and any surgery or procedure reports. Put them in a health file at home. This allows you to retrieve a test when you need it, and not depend on a busy doctor’s office or facility to forward your records. Get copies of your records for yourself so you are in control.
2. Understand your health insurance plan. No one likes surprise medical bills so ask questions about what your plan covers, the amount of your deductible, if there is co-insurance and what that percentage is and when it applies, and which medications your plan covers. There have been a number of changes in health insurance and you might not be aware of them. Call your health plan’s customer service number and ask questions.
3. Prepare a list of questions before you see a doctor or nurse. If you prepare ahead of time, this allows you to think about what you want out of the medical encounter. Write down questions or input them into your smart phone. We’ve all experienced forgetting questions and later calling our medical provider to retrieve information. Document what your doctor or nurse explains so you can refer to the information later. It can be stressful seeing a provider and stress interferes with cognitive function, namely memory.
4. Do your part for an accurate diagnosis. Diagnoses that are wrong, missed or delayed are believed to affect 10 to 20 percent of cases. If you are seeking a diagnosis from your doctor, create a symptom diary ahead of time. Track your symptoms on a daily basis. List the following:
-Where on or in your body your symptoms are located.
-When they started and if there was a physical event before or at the time symptoms developed.
-Note what makes them worse or better (such as exercise or eating a meal), when they occur or if constant.
-Document pain (list pain on scale of 1-10, 10 being the worst) and when it occurs.
-Note what you think might be causing your symptoms.
Share this information with your provider. The more information you offer, the more likely you’ll receive an accurate diagnosis.
5. Do your part to prevent medication errors. According to the Institute of Medicine, 1.5 million people are harmed by medication errors every year. Create a list of your current medications and their dosages, over-the-counter medications, herbs and supplements, and allergies to medications. Bring this with you to each medical encounter.
6. Ask questions. If you don’t understand something that is explained to you by a medical provider, ask for clarification. This does not imply that you aren’t smart. It implies that you want to understand. Medical information can be complex.
7. Do your research. Find out as much as you can about a medication, proposed diagnosis or treatment plan. This is important so you are informed.
-Ask your doctor for information.
-Research on credible websites.
-Ask questions of other patients who have the same diagnosis or treatment. Online patient communities can be helpful.
-Go to your local library for information. Ask the librarian or medical librarian for assistance.
8. Get a second opinion. If you question a diagnosis, if surgery is recommended, or if you have a serious illness, get a second opinion from a qualified specialist who is board-certified and affiliated with a respected medical school.
9. Use your pharmacist. If you have unanswered questions about your medications or are having difficulty managing them, make an appointment with your pharmacist and ask for help.
10. Bring a loved one with you to a doctor’s appointment. Ask this person to document answers to your questions so you can refer to it later. If a loved one accompanies you, you’ll feel less nervous about asking questions.
Let’s make 2015 the year of the safe patient!
Happy New Year! Best wishes for a safe and prosperous 2015.