Unless you’re a patient dealing with a medical issue that has not yet been successfully diagnosed and treated, you might not be easily convinced of the advantages of taking charge of yourself as a patient. Gathering copies of your pertinent medical records, writing up a health summary, creating a chronology of events which includes a list of physicians seen and the interventions each has tried, can seem like an unnecessary task–until a medical condition or disease hits.
I talked to a good friend a couple of days ago who had been treated by a new gynecologist for a suspected bladder infection. Two antibiotics later, (one prescribed by a doctor on call for the new doctor who was away) she was still in pain and the cluster of symptoms had not abated. When we spoke, she said she was going to see the new gynecologist again and possibly her internist as well. She seemed a bit overwhelmed and possibly frightened about the ongoing symptoms and the absence of an accurate diagnosis.
I told her that first, before seeing either doctor, she had to put together a health summary, something I describe in my new book, The Take-Charge Patient. I explained that her health summary had to identify her symptoms and where they were located in her body, their frequency and duration.
Next, I told her to list the name and dosage of the first antibiotic she’d been prescribed and which physician had prescribed it for her. Then, list when the second antibiotic had been introduced, it’s name and dosage and which physician had prescribed it for her. Unable to remember the names of the medications, she said, “I think I threw the bottles out since I’ve finished the antibiotics.” I suggested that she call her pharmacist and ask for what she needed. I also urged her to get a copy of the test results from the first physician she saw.
This packet of information would be presented to each doctor. I explained to my friend that taking charge of her medical information in this way would not only support her doctors’ efforts but it would help her feel more empowered as a patient and reduce any helplessness she felt.
She did what I suggested and went prepared with all the information she needed to two doctors’ appointments.
She called me today and said how much more confident she’d felt when meeting with her two physicians. She said, “It’s just like you said. I feel more in control when dealing with my doctors and the medical process. It reduced the stress—all because I took charge of my part as a patient.”
Nothing could have made me happier. To hear that the effects of a few organizational tools had such a positive effect, just made my day.
5 Tips to Empower Yourself as a Patient
- Gather copies of your pertinent medical records about your specific medical condition or disease. This includes lab, test results and reports.
- Write up a brief health summary. This includes a description of your symptoms, where they are located on or in your body, what makes them worse or better, how long you have had them, and what you have tried to ease them.
- Create a chronological list of doctors you have seen for this particular set of symptoms, any diagnoses you were given, and a list of tests or treatments you underwent.
- Create a list of your current medications and dosages, over-the-counter medications, supplements and herbs, and allergies to medications.
- List any additional current medical diagnoses you have and the names of physicians you see for them.
Gathering your medical information into one packet not only keeps each physician up-to-date on what has transpired with you as the patient, (especially if several doctors are involved), but the process can empower you in a way that no other strategy does.
Patients don’t always realize until they have a medical issue to deal with, just how successful this approach can be on several different levels. Taking charge of your medical history actually gets you invested in your health and medical care. It commits to memory what has transpired with your medical issue and allows you to be more present in conversation with your doctor. It prevents the common scenario of patients forgetting what has occurred from the onset of symptoms through to the time a physician is seen.
The trick is inciting people to organize their health files before they have a medical issue that requires visits to doctors, labs, imaging centers and more.
The more you know, the more empowered you feel.