Springtime, Easter and Passover … all work to make this an especially hopeful time of year.
Yes, Mary and I spent the weekend with Kate, Andy and Rowan. That, too, always adds to my optimism and positivity.
Ro is a joy. Happy, strong, funny and warm. But with Mary as her grandmother and Kate as her mom, what other chance did she have! Walking around their new neighborhood in the suburbs north of Chicago, I was impressed by the life bursting out all over. Trees and shrubs budding, flowers opening, birds singing, butterflies fluttering … newness all around.
It seems to me, New Year’s should probably be replaced by Easter as the time to commit to improved behavior and resolutions of personal growth. So I invite you to become a better patient!
You trust your doctors to give you the best care possible, but taking an active role in your own health care can go a long way in ensuring you’re as healthy as you can be.
Our job as physicians is to help our patients as best we can, but there are some things that every patient can do to help themselves get and stay well.
Here are six ways to be a better patient.
1. Describe your symptoms clearly
If you’ve made an appointment with your primary care doctor or a specialist because you have some nagging pain or you’re feeling short of breath, you’ll help your doctor immensely by explaining the problem in detail.
Before your appointment, take some time to think about or write down what your symptoms are and how long you have noticed them. Consider what you were doing when you first noticed the symptoms and anything that makes the symptoms worse or better. Knowing these details so you can accurately describe the problem will help your doctor. Just like news reporters, in addition to the who, document the what, where, when, how and why (that is, what makes it better or worse.)
2. Ask questions when you’re unsure
A doctor’s visit can sometimes be overwhelming, especially if you get a diagnosis you were not expecting. But you should never walk out of your doctor’s office feeling unsure of what your next steps are or what a particular diagnosis means.
Don’t ever leave an office feeling confused or unsure. Never be afraid to ask why a test is ordered, what alternate treatment options might be available, or what the side effects of a prescribed drug are.
To make sure you keep information straight, take notes and repeat back what your doctor tells you to make sure you understand.
3. Be honest
Whether it’s a questionnaire you fill out before your appointment or a series of questions your doctor asks you during your exam, it’s important to answer them honestly — even if it means owning up to some bad habits.
It’s normal to be embarrassed or afraid when we have bad habits, but being honest about your habits or admitting that you haven’t been taking medicine, for example, helps us adjust treatment.
4. Know your and your family’s medical history
We know that taking care of ourselves is the best way to be healthy. But understanding your medical and family history — and telling your doctor — can help your care team determine your risks for many conditions.
Telling your doctor that your parents both had high blood pressure or that you have a family history of cancer can help them recommend preventive care or screening tests.
5. Follow your doctor’s orders
It’s in your best interest to follow through and get ordered screening tests, take prescribed medication and schedule follow-up appointments so you and your doctor can monitor progress, assess any side effects or issues that you’re experiencing and make adjustments.
And if you forget to take medication as prescribed or aren’t following orders as closely as you should, it’s also important to let your doctor know.
6. Get an annual checkup
When you’re sick, you visit your doctor with a specific ailment that becomes the focus of your visit. But getting a checkup that focuses on preventive care can be an important part of staying well.
A checkup helps us find problems in the early stages, often before you have symptoms. This gives you the best shot at successful treatment.
Time to put bad habits aside, start fresh, grow, renew, take charge of your own health and use the tips above to do it. Good luck!
Dr. Alfred Casale, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for the Geisinger Health System and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]