This week my son had an appointment with a new doctor whom I was hoping to get a fresh opinion from. I was super upset I could not make it myself but thankfully my husband could take him, as it took months (actually years due to COVID) to get scheduled with her.
After adding my questions to his list, the last thing I said on the phone before they went in is was “Please, just don’t be a ‘good patient'”. Despite being a doctor himself, he knew exactly what I meant.
There are a ton of great docs out there, but as anyone knows who has actually had to be part of the receiving end of the medical system, you need to advocate for yourself pretty aggressively to get good care. In fact I have seen it change dramatically with just a few extra questions.
We have personally been on the receiving side of the medical system with my son for 15 years now and I have learned the hard way the importance of asking extra questions and not just nodding and doing as we are told.
Additionally, I worked as a doula in hospitals with women at their births for 8 years. Both in the exam room and labor room I saw time and time again how asking the right questions changed care significantly.
Now, having worked with hundreds of men and women around gut health, hormone health, and all sorts of chronic problems and as a health educator I am always reminding people to ask their medical providers the right questions to make sure they are receiving the best care.
In my experience, taking the time to speak up for yourself, ask questions, have treatments explained to you, and demand you are heard and seen as a whole unique person is critical in receiving the best care for both short and long term health.
This is of course going to look differently for everyone. Because of how insurance works and how the medical system works this can at times be challenging. However, a few great strategies I have learned over the years to help get better care-
- Make sure your sings and symptoms are not dismissed. If they are, find a new provider or at least more practitioners to add to your team who will listen.
- Clearly tell your provider your health goals
- Know what tools this particular provider has to work with. If you are seeing surgeon they are going to give you surgical options, if you are seeing a medical doctor they most often work with medications and likely do not have nutritional information, if you are seeing an herbalist they use herbs, and so on. Be aware of the perspective you are getting.
- Be curious and respectful, asking questions such as-
- What would happen if I don’t do this treatment or take this medication right away?
- What might a more conservative doctor suggest?
- What might a more liberal doctor suggest?
- Have you ever heard of people using food or lifestyle to impact this issue?
- In your opinion what might be driving this problem?
- Do you think there is a way to impact what might be driving this problem?
- Would this medication or protocol cause any side effects?
- Have you heard of any new research in this area that I could look up?
- How does this protocol or medication impact my body? Meaning does it deplete me of any nutrients or digestive function or impact my microbiome?
- Do you know of any other practitioners who can also help with this issue?
- Can you help me understand what is going on in my body?
- Is there any reason I would not want to take this medication or have this surgery?
- What are the pros and cons of this treatment.
- Are there any other labs that might tell us more information about what might be going on?
- Does this seem urgent to you?
Respectful? Yes, of course, this person likely has a great perspective to offer. But “good” (aka nod and accept whatever is suggested without understanding why or being curious)? No way.
Too many times I have seen people lumped into a category and receive the status quo treatment that often involves masking symptoms. The current medical system and insurance business make it challenging for doctors to spend the time to fully see patients as the unique individual they are. I think any doctor will agree with that.
For me personally nothing felt scarier then my husband showing up for that important appointment and smiling, nodding, and being a ‘good patient’. I have seen time and time again how care changes dramatically when you are not a “good patient” but instead advocate for yourself.
So yea, I get fired up around this.
Please, don’t be a ‘good patient’. Ask questions, speak up for yourself and if your medical provider resents that then find a new one or find additional people to add to your wellness team. People who are curious about not just what but WHY. Your body is amazing and unique, you should be treated as such.
Janel Ferrin Anderson NC, FNLP, DNM
Janel works with people in Truckee CA and online who want to understand their body better and get curious around the science of how food and lifestyle impact their health. She works one-on-one with people and in several groups that happen each year. Learn more about Janel here. Learn more about working with Janel here