How Prepared Are You For Your Doctor's Visit?
After a 11-year-long battle with two critical health issues, the author shares her 10-point guide to a healthy doctor-patient relationship
Most people know when to seek medical help but not many of us realize that getting the best out of your doctor’s appointment takes more than just showing up. A doctor-patient dynamic is somewhat similar to that of partners on a mission. This indelible truth was one of the biggest eye-openers of my 11-year-long battle with two critical health issues—first, breast cancer and then heart failure—from 2007 to 2018. You can imagine the number of visits I had to make to doctors’ chambers. And while I went to private hospitals where meeting doctors was appointment-based and comparatively easier than visiting government hospitals, my interactions with health-care professionals across three cities—Pune, Mumbai and Chennai—taught me that the universal rule during any medical crisis is to go prepared. Here’s what I learnt about what patients can do to help doctors do their best.
Find the right partner
The first step to preparation is listing the qualities we wish to see in our doctor. In addition to a preliminary online search, make inquiries among friends regarding their experiences with medical professionals, or seek recommendations from your family doctor or other specialists before zeroing in on whom to consult. Apart from the individual’s reputation and bedside manner, consider some other factors: What kind of experience—multiple specializations, emergency care etc. —would you need your doctor to have? If you need to be in regular touch, how expensive or easily accessible is she? The answers will help you choose well.
Set the stage
Plan ahead and arrive early for an appointment. Be prepared to wait because doctors may have to attend to other patients and listen to their medical problems —just as you would require time when it’s your turn. Showing anger because you have been told to wait or insisting on special treatment because you know the head of the hospital won’t earn you any brownie points.
Organize and inform
Briefly summarize your present symptoms in writing, file all the important medical reports and documents and organize them in a chronological order with the most recent ones on top. The more organized and detailed you can be, the easier it will be for your doctor to understand your case and plan the treatment.
Honesty is key to successful teamwork. Not sharing important health-related information will directly affect a doctor’s ability to diagnose and treat. Dr Suresh Rao, co-director at the Institute of Heart and Lung Transplant in Chennai, says “We expect patients to reveal all the history and symptoms and not hide anything.” Dr K. R. Balakrishnan, renowned heart-lung transplant surgeon at MGM Healthcare Hospital, Chennai, avers, “Patients must answer questions about their medical history truthfully. For example, do they have a history of smoking and alcohol intake? Suppression of medical history can lead to faulty diagnoses and medication.” Offer the same degree of honesty and openness that you would expect from your doctor.
Make sure to let your doctor know about your health issues and medical history in detail. (Photo used for representative purposes only. Courtesy Flickr)
Without a relationship based on mutual respect, faith and trust, you are far less likely to reach a successful outcome. Dr Prashanth Acharjee, ENT oncologist at Medanta Medicity, Gurgaon, says, “One hesitates to treat patients who need advanced treatments but resist our advice.” Pune-based Dr C. B. Koppiker, one of India’s top oncologists, says, “What I expect from patients is a willingness to team up with me so that the right decision can be taken. They should talk openly about their fears and show faith in my teams’ judgement and protocol.”
Question with care
However, your faith should never be blind. “In case of a doubt, patients can always ask questions,” says Dr Rao. Patients have the right to seek a second opinion. A good doctor will encourage patients to do so in the face of the slightest hesitation and provide resources that will satisfy their doubts before commencing treatment.
Patients must not stop or change medicines at will. Dr Kiranjit Singh, internal medicine consultant at Jehangir Hospital Pune, says he feels “disheartened” when patients discontinue prescribed medication without informing him because it interferes with the treatment. Dr Chandu Athalye, head of the dentistry department at Ruby Hall Foundation, Pune, agrees, “Without a patient’s full cooperation, good results are impossible.” Dr Kamolini Ghosh, dentist at The Indian Red Cross Maternity Hospital, Kolkata, finds patients who delay treatment or resort to self-medication “difficult”.
With online health information just a search away, we now have the chance to educate ourselves on various conditions, symptoms, side-effects, treatment options etc. While this learning may help you understand your condition and treatment better, it certainly does not put you in a position equal to that of a trained, experienced medical professional. Dr Balakrishnan advises: “Follow your physicians’ instructions, not Dr Google.”
A variant of this type are patients who are doctors, have a doctor in the family, or generally want to show off. Doctors personally feel withdrawn from such patients. The resulting uncomfortable situation will only get in the way of good treatment.
Resist the temptation to resort to Dr Google too much for your health conditions. (Image used for representative purposes only. Courtesy Needpix)
No doctor can offer supervision 24x7; so it is up to the patient and/or caregivers to be vigilant about how well, or badly, the treatment is progressing. Share information and evidence about changes in symptoms—both new or recurrences of old ones—and, in critical or terminal cases, remain open to the possibility that all news may not be positive. The line between staying motivated and accepting an unpleasant truth is thin but transparency will help you avoid rude shocks.
Keep to the code
While exceptions do exist, doctors want to see patients cured, and regard their work as a calling. Patients and their families are understandably operating under fear, stress and emotional duress, but harbouring unwarranted suspicion, behaving in an uncivil or violent way or attempting to extract preferential treatment in lieu of flattery, coercion or bribery are sadly commonplace practices that are counterproductive. These not only sully the doctor-patient relationship but can also make the partnership conditional, breeding distaste and compromising the quality of care.