Quick: “Who is the most responsible for the quality of your medical care?” If you said “my doctor”, you’re just a bit off. It’s you! In today’s fast-paced and medically complex world, it has become clear that patients need to take an active part in the care they receive. Unlike our parents, it is very likely that we will have to change doctors several times in our lives. This means we are responsible for getting the correct information to our new doctors in an accurate way.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, medical mistakes result in between 44,000 – 98,000 American deaths each year. Public agencies are constantly working to improve our hospitals, systems and practices. Be Well Solutions wants to help you become a smarter consumer and help prevent these needless catastrophes.
Why should I become a Smart Patient?
Smart Patients (SP’s) are much more likely to be satisfied with the medical care they receive because they understand and use their rights as patients. They look for a doctor that they like and that they have confidence in. They speak up when they do not understand things.
Doctors like SP’s as well: “When someone takes an active interest in their care, they are usually more compliant with medications, routine screening exams and lifestyle changes. They want to stay well, get better and work hard towards that end,” says Ronald Golovan, M.D., past Chairman of Internal Medicine at Lutheran Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio. It is clear that SP’s are looked at as partners in care with their doctors, not just bystanders.
The first step in becoming an SP is to assemble and record your medical history so it is easy to quickly review at each appointment. It needs to be kept up to date for optimum efficacy. There are a number of sources to help you construct a health journal, from books like You: The Smart Patient (Simon and Schuster) and websites like familydoctor.org. A basic health journal includes the following information:
- Illnesses and injuries
- Medications and vitamins/supplements that you are taking
- Diseases or illness in your immediate family
- Immunization history
- Screenings and results
BEFORE your appointment:
Insurance-Wise Healthcare Consumer Tips
- Take time to review your insurance plan and make sure that you understand your coverage.
- Choose in-network providers. You will generally pay less because your insurance company has negotiated prices with them for their services.
- Schedule your annual wellness exams. Prevention and early detection are the best ways to keep costs down.
- Ask if there is a generic version of all drugs your doctor prescribes for you.
- Contact your PCP first, even on weekends, unless it’s an emergency. Most offices have an on-call doctor who can answer your questions and help you get the care you need for common illnesses. If it is an emergency, always call 911 first.
- Review your medical bills and compare them with the explanation of benefits from your insurance company. Billing mistakes can happen. You have the right to contact your healthcare provider and/or insurance company if you think there is an error.
Smart patients take an active part in the care they receive from their doctors. They make sure they get answers to their questions about:
- Healthy aging
- Screening tests
- Patient rights
- Billing issues
- Second opinions
- Treatment alternatives
Medical Professional – High quality healthcare starts with your primary care doctor:
Your primary care doctor is the person you turn to first for medical care and advice. Primary care doctors can have different specialties (internal medicine, family practice, OB-GYN, etc), different personalities and different backgrounds. Remember, you have choices and you’re not locked into a doctor-patient relationship.You know you have found the right doctor if:
- You are comfortable talking to him or her.
- All your questions are answered in a way you can understand.
- You have enough time to ask all your questions.
- Your phone calls are returned promptly.
DURING your appointment:
Not sure what to ask your doctor? Below are examples of questions you can ask at your appointment.
- Are there any lifestyle changes I can make to help me improve or maintain my health?
- What preventive screenings are right for me?
- Why are you recommending this screening?
- What is my diagnosis?
- What are my treatment options and their success rates?
- Are there any side effects?
- Is this screening, treatment or medication covered by my insurance? Can I get an estimate of the cost?
- Can I have a summary of today’s appointment and/or a copy of my medical records, labs, scans, etc?
There are a number of things good consumers do to make sure they are getting the most out of doctor visits and treatments.
- Do your homework: Prepare your health journal. If you had labs drawn, call ahead to make sure your doctor has the results. Or call to see if the doctor wants you to go to the lab first.
- Come prepared: Think of any questions you want answered during the appointment. Write them down so you don’t forget. Ask questions with confidence, especially about medications or other treatments. Find out about side effects, alternatives and success rates.
- Know your rights: Patients have a number of rights. An important one is the right to your medical records including any lab and x-ray records, glasses and contact prescriptions, and doctor-doctor correspondences. You also have the right to know the estimated cost of all treatments and the right to have considerate, respectful care.
- Ask for a summary: You and your doctor should have time to summarize your findings and the plans for the future. You should leave with an understanding of what the future will bring. Make sure the doctor explains things in a way you can understand.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up: If you don’t understand something, you need to let the doctor know. Remember, you or your insurance company is paying good money. You deserve good care.