June 29, 2009

Are You Annoying Your Doctors?

reducing-medical-bills

My healthcare motto as of late is quit bitching and start thinking.  Yes, the health care system sucks and we need to vent about it big time.  But, we also need to learn how the system and its players work so we can use them to our advantage.  We cannot do this if we think patients are never to blame.

In my book Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide To Cancer in Your 20s and 30s, I write a lot about how I and other young patients have wrangled the system, fought like hell, and got the care we needed. You can’t win these battles by only thinking like a patient; you sometimes have to think like a doctor.

Last week, Kevin MD posted about patients who annoy their doctors.  A commenter complained about cancer lit that suggests patients bring a friend or family member to appointments because it turns the appointment into “a side show.”  Instead of getting in a defensive-patient tizzy, brewing up an us patients vs. the rest of the world rivalry, I thought I’d try to see if there was value in the comment.

I want my doc to absorb my medical history, perform a good hands on exam, and answer my questions, all in 10 minutes. So maybe the maxim shouldn’t be ‘bring a friend to appointments’ but bring a friend who is medically astute and a skilled communicator. Is it really helpful to have a flighty chatterbox with me in my appointment, who will distract and annoy my doc?  I think not.

Tonight on the Stupid Cancer Show, Matthew Zachary and I will be interviewing Wendy Harpham MD, a mom of three and general practitioner diagnosed with cancer at 36.  Her great new book, 10 Seconds to Care: Help and Hope for Busy Clinicians, helped me better understand the pressure cooker in which my docs work and the ways in which I can actually make their jobs easier.  Considering that their job is to save my life, I’d like to help them all I can.

Are there times when empathizing with your docs works to your advantage?  Do you ever read doctor blogs?  Have you ever brought someone to an appointment who actually made the process more complicated rather than easier?

For more stories about how to be an effective, proactive patient, check out my book Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide To Cancer in Your 20s and 30s, available wherever books are sold.

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May 15, 2009

Standing Up To Your Doctor… Naked

dog-gown

I loved Michelle’s response to my post Fashionable Hospital Gowns? It begs the question: How do we take control in a doctor’s office when our tits’n ass are hanging out? Here are some of my tactics.

When the nurse hands me a gown to change into  – I don’t.  Instead, I wait fully clothed in a chair until the doctor enters. (I often work at their desk, which is productive and beats sitting half naked in fear on a vinyl table.) When the doc arrives, we talk about my symptoms/concerns and review labs or scans. Then they leave and I change for the exam.

Some docs hate when I eat up their time with these extra entrances and exits. Frankly, I don’t give a damn. The more comfortable and in control I am at my appointment, the better we will communicate. Good communication reduces the likelihood of phone tag or extra appointments to clear up misinformation.

After the exam, I always get off of the table. I sit in a chair, walk across the room, or if there is no space I just stand up in front of the table rather than sitting on it. I’m a professional choreographer and believe that where you stand in space can manipulate the focus, power, and control of a scene.

Also, if I walk over and pick up my underwear and start putting it on, male and female docs usually bolt for the door and return in a minute or two for conversation when I’m fully clad.

Do you ever think about where you sit or stand and your body language or eye contact during conversations with your docs? How do your docs react when you change up the routine and try to approach things more on your own terms? Are these suggestions practical for your situation?

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