Advocating for your Health

Do you like your doctor?  Do you have your doctor’s full attention when you are sitting together in the examination room? Does your gut tell you that how and why you are being diagnosed with an illness just doesn’t sound right, especially when you are seen for about 7 minutes? Yet there are important letters after his/her name proving your doctor knows what he/she is talking about.

I recently finished, reading Jerome Groopman, M.D.’s book, How Doctor’s Think, and it provides powerful insight into the thought process doctors go through when making a diagnosis.  Dr. Groopman’s book is very readable, offers examples of patient and physician experiences, and shows how important it is for patients to advocate for themselves and for doctors to listen to the patient and not assume that described symptoms are automatically the same illness that the doctor has seen hundreds of times previously.

One of the many insightful examples Groopman describes is of his own experience in getting the proper diagnosis for pain in his hand.  His wife is also a physician and together they traveled all over the country seeing hand specialists who suggested a variety of diagnoses and surgeries that he did not want to undergo.  Ultimately, he learned of a young hand surgeon whom he heard was a ‘hotshot’.  More out of curiosity Groopman scheduled an appointment and the surgeon did something different, he looked at both hands.  The surgeon said that he had a torn ligament in his right hand which was causing friction between two bones.  For the first time, there was a diagnosis that made sense though MRIs and x-rays did not show a torn ligament.  “Doctors relied too much on such sophisticated scans…so sometimes you had to discount their findings if they were out of sync with the clinical picture.” According to Groopman, this doctor “seemed sober and independent in his thinking, not bowing to technology when it clashed with a patient’s history and physical exam.”

I have moved to different states over the years since being diagnosed by a tremendous specialist with whom I had a special doctor/patient relationship.  I have learned how to assess a new doctor and keep looking if I am not comfortable with bedside manner, assumptions are made by from our conversation, or the doctor or nurse is not available when I need help.  In short, I have learned to be my own advocate for my medical care.  Believe it or not, the physicians group that I am comfortable with, after visiting several GPs and specialists, is in a rural Texas near my home.  Why do I like these doctors so much?  I am their only patient in the room and they both listen and explain.  If one thing doesn’t work, we try something else.  Some time ago, I told my doctor that I doubted I would ever be able to function normally and go to work full time. His response was that his goal was for me to be able to do just that. For me, that was a powerful statement as it showed he cared about me.

It’s important that we take responsibility for our own health whatever disability we have to manage so below are a few tips on finding the right health care professional for you:

  • The patient-doctor rapport is critical.  If you don’t like your doctor, you may not be fully open in sharing symptoms.
  • Doctors do have a lot of pressure to see as many patients as possible but regardless of the amount of time they spend with you, their full attention needs to be on you.
  • If your instinct is telling you that the diagnosis or medications prescribed are wrong, go get another opinion or several opinions.
  • If you are looking for a new internist, ask friends, family or colleagues about who they see.  Referrals can make a huge difference if you like what you hear about their doctor.
  • One way to find a specialist in your area is to check with the association that supports your illness.  Many have lists of physicians in every state.
  • If your doctor wants to refer you to a specialist, ask what they think of that specialist.  I always ask that question and sometimes, my doctor has reconsidered because he knows I take a doctor’s words as gospel.  I need to understand what is being done to my health in layman’s terms.  I am also very visual and need a doctor to not just tell me but show me what is going on.
1 Groopman, M.D.,  Jerome. How Doctors Think. (2007).  New York: Houghton Mifflin Company

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LBWebb Coach

Passionate, compassionate, opinionated.

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