I’m fortunate enough to have lived most of my life with hardly a worry in the world when it came to personal health issues. However, this year changed my outlook. Firmly into the fourth decade of my life, it became necessary to schedule some basic preventative health care screens for the first time. This then led me down to what seemed like a never-ending path of scheduling and completing test after test, followed by even more appointments. As the year progressed, I also became involved in a serious health care issue affecting a very close family member which led to learning how to navigate the maze of international health care!
As 2014 finally rolls to an end, I reflect on some valuable lessons learned, having experienced medicine from the perspective of a consumer rather than a provider.
Ways to be a better patient or “consumer”
Write down your doubts and questions and take notes during visits. Even being a physician myself, I found myself learning new medical terms that I’d never heard before. I had to write things down, look up things later, and ask tons of questions.
Actively participate in decision making, but respect the experience and expertise of your health care team. It’s good to do your own research on topics, but involve your health care team as you do this to avoid getting information from poor sources. With easy access to “Dr. Google”, we are all at risk of this.
Be a “smart shopper”. Especially in this age of the Affordable Care Act, be aware that each and every decision not only has health consequences, but financial ones as well. It’s not always worth having the doctor “run a bunch of tests” without specific reasons especially if those tests may mean a bunch of extra out-of-pocket costs without changing your health outcome.
Ways to be a better doctor or “provider”
Listen intently and show empathy. Understanding that patients and families turn to you for help during some of life’s lowest moments keeps your authority in perspective and instills humility.
Make eye contact, put down gadgets, and don’t stare at screens while a patient is talking to you. Nothing made me feel better than having my doctors speak directly to me, taking the time to explain things clearly.
Be upfront, honest, and transparent with your patients. Trust is the foundation of the best patient-doctor relationships.
I am thankful for the wonderful health care providers that I met during my journey this year. They all provided my family and I with great care and support. My experiences taught me important lessons about how to make future experiences even better. And most importantly, I learned ways that I can improve the lives of those I serve as a physician myself.