Although I practice in the mental health field, I have countless experiences of my patients recounting stories to me of failed or disappointed experiences with their doctors, both in the mental health and physical health realms.
How can I be my own health advocate is a common question posed by many of my patients. Here are some tips and questions to think about:
- Do you know your diagnoses? Have you asked what they mean?
- Do you think that if you ask too many questions you are a burden to your healthcare provider? P.S. It’s not a burden, although there is always balance. Asking 20 questions a week may be overboard, but most of the time we fall on the other end of the spectrum and don’t ask enough
- Do you know all the options for treatment? Do you know what your treatment will entail? yes, I am a firm believer in evidence-based treatments and I do believe they should be the first-line defense. However, I am not opposed to alternative treatments (as long as they pose no harm) and encourage patients to complement their treatments frequently. In this regard, I like to suggest centering, mindfulness activities, like yoga, to help my patients reaffirm their strategies to exist in the here-and-now.
- Have you gotten a second opinion on your diagnoses and suggested form of treatment?
- If you are getting medication, have you gotten a proper evaluation in order to receive that medication? (All too frequently I hear stories of “i told my PCP that I was sad for a few days and they prescribed me Zoloft.”)
- Have you educated yourself? Great resources are http://www.pubmed.com and http://www.clinicaltrials.gov
- Do you have your medical records organized and copied for your current provider? (it’s very very very helpful when a patient brings in copies of lab data and/or previous psychological or neuropsychological reports; it helps to give clinicians a more accurate picture of what is currently going on).
- Be honest (not just with a clinician, but with yourself).
- Your clinician is not there to judge you, they are there to help. Be open with them.
- Ask questions. If you do not understand something your clinician wants to know. Treatment does not work if you do not know why it is/not working.
- Realize that your clinician is a human too and will definitely make mistakes. It’s a collaborative and honest process on both ends, be willing to work hard and great things can be accomplished.