The health care system can frustrate the most knowledgeable patients as well as health care providers. Communication gaps are among the most formidable issues complicating a coordinated health care plan. Appropriate communication starts with the patient and the doctor. The MS Center staff recommends that patients meet with their doctor before establishing a long term therapeutic relationship. This meeting can allow patients to clarify expectations for the doctor/patient relationship and evaluate the responses received. Some important questions to ask a doctor include:
- How do you educate your patients about multiple sclerosis?
- Do you consider yourself a consultant/educator or do you see yourself as the director of my care?
- What is your policy on returning phone calls?
- Do you consider yourself aggressive or conservative in recommending treatments?
- How much information do you feel a patient should have before making a decision on medication choices? How detailed are your explanations related to risks or side effects of medications?
- What medications and therapies do you commonly prescribe?
- What would you do if I said “NO” to a specific medication or other therapeutic regimen?
There are some basic guidelines to assure effective office visits:
- State your reasons for the visit clearly and up front.
- Make a list of the questions you would like to have answered: Print two copies, and hand one to your doctor so they can be sure to address anything that jumps out to them if you forget to mention it.
- Try to estimate how much time will be needed to address questions with the doctor and recognize that there is almost always a time crunch in a doctor’s office. Ask for additional time, if necessary, when making the appointment, and be prepared to pay for this extra time. (You may want to ask your questions rather than have a physical examination during some of your appointments.)
- Anticipate the information a physician may require and be prepared with answers for questions such as:
- When did your symptoms begin?
- How long have they been going on?
- What do they feel like to you?
- What treatment have you received for these symptoms?
- What was your response to the treatment?
You should feel comfortable calling your physician’s office when symptoms occur that you do not understand. Some patients hesitate to call, feeling their symptoms may not warrant attention or that the doctor may be too busy. This can result in problems. For example, symptoms of an early urinary tract infection can be easily treated. However, if you wait until the infection is severe, treatment is difficult and consequences can be severe.
A good doctor/patient partnership is critical and positive reinforcement can go a long way toward achieving that kind of relationship. Try to make the interactions with the doctor as personal as possible. Begin with a handshake, if appropriate, or warm greeting. Give positive feedback on specific actions that were helpful to you. The goal is to establish a partnership that involves understanding, mutual respect, and trust. These same principles are applicable to other aspects of the health care system as well.
MyHealthConnection is a special online resource to help UCH patients have a better understanding of their healthcare and foster a better relationship with their doctor.
Features of MyHealthConnection:
- View online test results as soon as they become available
- Receive a visit reminder via email two days before scheduled appointments
- Manage preferences and services based on personal needs
- Share valuable feedback by completing a patient satisfaction survey via email
- Request an appointment in most clinics
- Renew a prescription
- Communicate with your physician in a safe environment
Patients can sign up at www.uch.edu/myhealthconnection/ or download the iPhone or Android apps on their mobile devices.
How to get the most out of the health care system
Getting the most out of your medical care may also involve attention to some non-medical issues:
- Become an expert on your own insurance plan and identify someone in the insurance office to answer questions.
- Establish a relationship with someone in the physician’s office to help in this area as well.
- Keep a running account of issues that have been discussed and with whom.
- Clarify preauthorization requirements before any medical procedures are performed.
- If you are unclear about a recommendation when you get home, call back to clarify the issues before you proceed.
- Get information in writing, if possible.