Patient safety awareness week

Your Health, Women's Health, Men's Health | 9 months ago

It's Easier Than You Think to Play an Active Role in Your Healthcare

According to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, one in five adults say they’ve experienced a medical error. Here are easy tips – straight from a fellow patient – to help avoid it happening to you. 

You don’t need to have extensive medical experience to advocate for your health. Your doctor’s the medical expert, of course – but when it comes to having the full picture of your personal health, lifestyle and history, you’re the authority. And both perspectives are critical to ensuring you get the right care.

Here are four tips to help you play an active role in your healthcare:

1. Prepare for your appointment

Maryn Gaynor, an Atrium Health (formerly Carolinas HealthCare System) patient, prepares for her appointments by writing down a few specific questions and reviewing her list of current medications. “I also call ahead to find out if there are any instructions I need to know about, such as not eating food for a certain amount of time before a test.” 

Printing the checklist for getting the right diagnosis, from the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF), can also be helpful.

Gaynor says having her paperwork in order streamlines the check-in process. “I make sure my insurance is up-do-date and I know my copay information, and I fill out any necessary forms before I leave my house.” 

2. Don’t be afraid to communicate

Communication is key to getting the right care, so don’t be afraid to speak up during your appointment. “I try to get as much detail in one visit as I can so I know what to expect,” says Gaynor. 

The NPSF suggests using the Ask Me 3 method to better understand health conditions and your doctor’s recommendations to stay healthy:

1) What is my main problem?

2) What do I need to do?

3) Why is it important for me to do this?

If you need treatment, don’t be afraid to ask for an estimated timeline on your treatment plan. This will help you to plan financially and determine if you will need to take time off work.

Gaynor says she approaches her treatments like she does with her car repairs. “The mechanic tells me what’s ‘wrong’ with my car, and I ask what’s needed right away, what can wait and for how long, and what can be put off until my next tax refund,” she jokes. “Seriously, though, I have found that this honest prioritization method often works well with my doctor, too.”

3. Know your medical and family history

Keep a medical notebook and bring it with you to your appointments. Gaynor uses a notebook with a built-in calendar to track past and future appointments, medications with dosages and any important paperwork she receives from her provider. “I bring my notebook with me to every appointment,” she says. “It helps me, and my doctor, stay on track.” 

Gaynor also has a section in her notebook for her family history. “That way I can add to it if something happens and note any common themes in our family,” she says. “Plus, it will make it easier for my kids if they need to reference it for their own healthcare.” 

4. Bring in back-up

Having a family member or close friend by your side can make you feel more comfortable and confident when speaking with your doctor. “My husband has been a big part of my appointments over the last few years, and it has made a huge difference,” says Gaynor. “He often thinks of questions that I may not have and views things from a different perspective.”

While it can be intimidating to speak up during a doctor’s visit, it’s important to remember that you and your doctor share a common goal: your wellbeing. 

The bottom line, offers Gaynor, is knowing your body and trusting your feelings. “If something doesn't feel right, trust your gut and don't hesitate to seek help. You need to feel comfortable with every aspect of your healthcare and trust that you’re getting the best care possible.”