This is a guest post. I’m dealing with finals and Cassie graciously wrote this post for you. I hope you enjoy it!
The current model dominating the field of healthcare makes it both difficult and confusing to get the kind of quality care each of us deserves. Knowing how to navigate the field is thus an essential part of avoiding stress and frustration and making sure you are getting the best care possible. Like anything else, you need a plan of attack. For example, you need to understand how to relay your concerns to friends and healthcare providers. Above all things, communication should be your most important tool when it comes to getting the best care.
You also need to have some goals and understand what it takes to get to them. Some problems—acute illnesses or even acute pain—can be remedied fairly quickly, whereas chronic conditions are going to take longer and will likely require specialty treatment. Each step in the diagnosis and treatment process is important, so it is crucial to know what is expected of you and your healthcare provider so that you can be certain your treatment is the best for you.
Explaining the Problem
Something not all patients understand is how to accurately describe their problems. This is no fault of their own—few doctors take the time needed to educate their patients. As a result, doctors inadvertently end up allowing themselves to be led into the wrong diagnosis simply due to faulty communication.
Describing your problem is a learning process. Just saying that you have pain doesn’t tell the physician much. They might ask you about the quality of the pain by using terms such as “burning” or “aching,” but how are you to know what the few examples they give even mean? Start by taking inventory of your problems. This can save you time at the office and make your doctor’s job easier. There are many standard medical questions that professionals should ask either directly or on intake forms – such as the ones mentioned here – but not all professionals do. Do yourself a favor and have the answers to these questions ready. Metaphors can help if you’re having difficulty describing something precisely. Accurately describing to your doctor what is wrong is a critical first step to getting quality treatment.
Understanding Your Condition
Nearly all treatment paths begin with some form of primary care physician. Doctors such as family physicians and chiropractors are trained as “portal of entry” practitioners; for you, that means they should be the first step before visiting a specialist, should that become necessary.
There are a few reasons for this. First, some specialists won’t even see you if you haven’t visited a primary care doctor first to rule out any basic problems (minor infections, mechanical pain, etc.) Second, primary care doctors usually charge considerably less than specialists. The difference is frequently on the order of hundreds of dollars, depending on whether or not you have insurance. If you do have insurance, specialists usually won’t see you until you come with a referral from your primary care doctor. The sole exception is paying out of pocket, but this isn’t recommended unless you’re certain about what the problem is. It makes sense if you think about it—you wouldn’t go straight to an orthopedic surgeon for knee pain without trying more conservative treatments first, right?
With a proper diagnosis, you’re set to make better decisions about treatment, and you’ll be more certain the care your getting the best possible care. The next step is actually finding the right doctor.
Finding the Appropriate Physician
This part can really try your patience. Even with a referral, the right doctor doesn’t always immediately avail themselves to you. The problem tends to happen when there are no specialists in your area to treat your condition, leading you to an under-qualified specialist. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen, but if it does, the ball moves back into your court. You may need to do some online research to find the right person for treatment.
Some more unusual conditions may require you to visit doctors with different kinds of training, such as functional medicine or even those in the realm of CAM (complementary and alternative medicine). Doctors working with new treatments sometimes post testimonials or videos about conditions they deal with on YouTube. It can be a good place to get an idea about how a doctor works and whether their treatments are right for you.
Another good place to look is on social media. Facebook has many groups dedicated to supporting various conditions, and these groups are often good places to get physician recommendations. The downside is that you may need to travel to find the right doctor. The important thing is to not settle. If you aren’t comfortable with a doctor or think you would do better with someone else, do all you can to find the right one—you’ll know it when you do.
Setting Treatment Goals
When you do find the right doctor for your condition, you want to set some goals. Your first goal might be something very straightforward, such as reducing or eliminating pain. Or, it might be to walk to the mailbox without falling over. Decide what your goals are, and make sure to communicate them to your physician. Having a goal will help tailor the treatment to reaching it. In the same way that more modest goals such as losing weight or building muscle work best with a plan, the same goes with treatment. This also keeps your doctor from deciding for you as they may have very different outcome goals than you. If you reach your goals and decide you want to improve further, don’t keep that information to yourself.
You should also set new goals and make plans with your physician to reach them. Remember that health is a team effort—we have to do things together to get truly impressive results. Having a physician who respects your goals and aligns his or her efforts with them is an important indicator of quality care.
The Value of Attitude
No matter how serious your condition might be, always know that if you control nothing else, you can always control your attitude about the situation. Holding a positive view on outcomes can and does have dramatic effects on treatment. So while you shouldn’t be satisfied with poor-quality care, don’t let the situation bog you down. There’s hope out there—it may not be a short journey, but it’s one we all have to make one way or the other.
About the Author: Cassie is an experienced nurse and technology enthusiast. In seeing numerous patients and conditions, she’s learned some of the ins and outs of healthcare and how best to help patients optimize their time and experience. You can find her here.
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