Monday, May 11, 2009

Under the Weather Without an Umbrella: Part 2

Between Obama's stimulus plan for Healthcare, the H1N1 virus scare, and the surge of unemployed Americans finding themselves without health insurance, confusion and anxiety over what will happen to access and affordability of care has become a hot topic in the media as of late.  Still, most Americans are passive consumers of the healthcare system - people drive to the closest hospital/clinic, attend physician office visit unprepared to ask educated questions of their doctors, and fail to ask for the generic version of their prescriptions.  The lack of understanding and initiative on behalf of the patient really serves as a detriment to the patient, the provider, and the system at large.  This series will provide a number of ways to improve your understanding of the healthcare system, save time and money, and become a champion of your health:

Making the Most of the 7.5 minutes with Your Doctor

For all of the twenty minutes I spend in the clinic waiting room perusing a 2007 issue of Family Circle magazine, and the following twenty minutes I spend in my provider's examination room staring at the eye chart and attempting to determine if I am due for a new pair of glasses, I do not think that I am alone in my lack of preparation for the average 7.5 minutes I spend with my doctor when she enters the room.  Here is a list of preparatory tips that will help all of us make the most of their time and ours:

1.  Be Honest.  Perhaps one of the biggest time wasters we are all seem guilty of is our failure to be upfront in all of the reasons for our visit to the doctor.  When you check in at the registration desk and offer "annual physical" as your reason for your appointment, then launch into a roundabout discussion about this birthmark you are worried about when your provider enters the room, you waste valuable time that could be better served taking a deeper dive into your concerns if that information had been available prior to your physician entering the room.  I know it can be embarrassing discussing that bump, those headaches, or those intestinal issues up front, but, guess what, the medical staff working with you sees them all day long, every day.  

2.  Know Thyself.  Come your visit prepared with a comprehensive list of all medications you are taking.  Even if your provider is utilizing an electronic medical record, which generally provides a trackable list of all your medications, he/she might not be aware that you started a prescription from another provider or that you are fighting insomnia with the Melatonin you picked up from the drug store.  The same idea is true of allergies, especially as some allergies develop over time (ask my friend and fellow Recessionista Pam, who recently discovered the hard way that she has a shellfish allergy!)

3.  Ask Questions...the Right Questions.  If you doctor is prescribing a new medication, ask if you are able to take the generic version instead (which can save you a lot of money.)  Ask about the drug's side effects.  If you have a chronic complaint, ask about alternative activities available to provide a more holistic approach to managing your condition.  Many MD's will recommend, for instance, utilizing exercise and yoga as a means to assist the treatment of anxiety, beyond drug therapy.  Alternately, your provider is not likely to know how much a treatment costs or the price of the medication you are taking.  Those questions are better addressed by others, but...

4. Don't Be Afraid to Get Financial Questions Answered.  In advance of your visit, doing a little legwork can assist with an assessment of how much your visit might run you.  Particularly if you will be going to the doctor to have a procedure performed, such as an x-Ray taken, many organizations publish this information online - it is available in something called the "Charge Description Master" (CDM).  Otherwise, call the facility's billing office; charges may vary based on provider fees, etc., but they should be able to offer you an estimate.

5.  Be Respectful of Your Doctor's Time.  Under fluorescent lights and practically naked under a sheer hospital gown, it is understandable that a vulnerable atmosphere can make you more inclined to share more information or anxieties with your doctor than you would with, say, your banker or dog walker.  Try to put into perspective that, although you feel this is the perfect opportunity to explain how you are still upset with your mom from the Thanksgiving comment she made about you inabilities in the kitchen, the time you are taking to share this is time another, likely sicker patient no longer has.  Doctors are expected to have an outstanding bedside manner, but that does not mean you have to share everything under your metaphorical sheet with them.  Keep the interaction pleasant but purposeful, and you will provider to be of better service to you and the patient next door.

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