It's time to switch up how you view your health care provider. The old school view of the physician, as a parental figure who knows all, isn't an optimal way to be responsible for your own health. Instead, think of your health care provider as a professional partner who has the clinical evidence and medical expertise to identify illnesses and recommend treatments. By working together, you can share decisions about your care, optimize your health, and gain a better understanding of your own body.
In order to help you, your health care provider needs to know you. Our health is impacted by everything in our lives—our jobs and work schedules, our families, our psychological well-being, the culture we were raised in, and the neighborhoods we live in. All of this helps your health care provider work with you to create a health plan that best suits your lifestyle.
Your health care provider is also acts as a personal detective, combing through clues to determine what is going on in your body—but you have to provide the clues. One of the best ways is by keeping a health journal, which includes:
- When symptoms started and the duration of symptoms
- Circumstances when symptoms started
- Date and time of symptoms
- Severity of symptoms on a scale of 1-10
- Your general health at the time of symptoms. Were you feeling run down? Agitated? Nauseated? Dizzy?
- What you ate that day—food can be connected to symptoms in surprising ways
- Any changes in your medication
Bring your medical journal with you to your appointment. In addition to these symptom clues, you might want to add any questions you might have, including questions gleaned from online information. But please limit questions gathered from the internet to no more than two or three. You want to make sure there's enough time to do a proper examination and discuss your treatment. The journal is also an excellent place to make notes during your discussion with the health care provider, including what to expect from any prescribed medication.
If you're among those who feel too overwhelmed at the health care provider's office to share and gather information, consider bringing a companion who can be objective and would agree to keep notes for you. Just make sure this individual knows that you must be the prime focus of the visit.
The healthcare partnership continues even after the office visit. Because communication is so important to shared decision making, ask your health care provider how you can best follow up. She will want to know if you are having side effects to the medication she prescribed, are feeling better or worse, or have any concerns. Most health care providers now have a secure patient portal online and this can be an excellent way to share information with your healthcare partner.
It may take a little extra effort on your part, but shared decision-making benefits everyone.