It’s a doctor’s job to take care of your employees and their health, but as patients, your employees have a role to play, too. And you can help them ensure that they’re getting the best possible care by encouraging them to be active members of their health care team, says Dr. John Wallendjack, vice president of Medical Affairs for HealthAmerica.
“Research shows that patients who are more involved with their care get better results. Better outcomes usually mean less cost is expended for care,” says Wallendjack. “Lack of communication is a primary reason for medical errors, which costs more all around.”
Smart Business spoke with Wallendjack about why being a better patient is an important component of getting better health care and how you can help your employees understand this.
How does a good doctor-patient relationship improve health care outcomes?
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), good communication is the cornerstone of the physician-patient relationship. Open, honest communication builds trust and promotes healing. A trusting relationship improves patient behavior, health outcomes and patient satisfaction. And according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), it reduces the chance for medical errors.
Quality health care begins with a patient having a close, personal relationship with his or her doctor. Improving health care quality is a team effort; the key is for patients to ask questions, understand their condition and evaluate their options.
Where should patients begin?
Asking questions seems elementary and easy, yet many patients hesitate, perhaps because they are embarrassed, or being anxious about the doctor’s visit makes them forget. No matter the reason for not asking questions, the easiest solution is being prepared before each visit.
Here are some tips from the AHRQ and the AAOS to help your employees get the most out of their medical appointments.
Before you go:
- Schedule your appointment. The receptionist may ask why you want to see the doctor. Based on the problem for example, a sore back, a trick knee, or painful finger an amount of time will be set aside for you. When you see the doctor, try not to discuss other problems, such as those darned bunions, or the achy elbow. There will not be enough time to do both, and your doctor may lose sight of the main reason for your visit. If you have more than one problem, tell the receptionist.
- Assemble your records. Compile documents, such as relevant medical records from other physicians, results and copies of X-rays and other imaging studies and lab tests, and personally take the records to the doctor’s office.
- Make written lists.
Medications, herbs, vitamin supplements and over-the-counter medications you are taking
Your medical history, such as prior treatments for heart or thyroid problems, or operations, even those not related to your current problem
Your concerns about your condition (pains, loss of mobility or function)
Any questions you may have
- Bring a friend. Consider asking a friend or family member to accompany you. If you need a translator, ask another adult to come with you; don’t rely on a child to translate.
- Dress appropriately. For spine issues and problems involving the arms and legs, you may be asked to disrobe. Wear loose clothing that’s easy to take off and put on.
At the doctor’s office:
- Arrive early. You will need time to complete any required forms or tests before meeting with your doctor.
- Be honest and complete in talking with your doctor. Share your point of view and don’t hold back information about issues such as incontinence, memory loss, sex, or other issues that you might consider embarrassing.
- Stick to the point. It might be fun to share news about the children, but keep it short to get the most out of your time with the doctor.
- Take notes and ask questions. Take notes on what the doctor tells you and ask questions if you don’t understand a medical term, the reason for the doctor’s recommendations, or the instructions for taking medication.
- Ask what to expect from your treatment. Find out what effect it will have on your daily activities and what you can do to prevent further disability.
- Ask for more information to take with you. Ask your doctor for handouts or brochures that you and your family members can review at home. Your doctor may refer you to a website for more information.
- Talk to the other members of the health care team. Physician assistants, nurses or therapists (speech, physical or occupational) can also address questions or concerns.
There are numerous government and organization websites that offer great tips for working with health care providers. Here are some of the best:
- The AAOS fact sheet, ‘Getting the Most Out of a Visit With Your Doctor,’ is at orthoinfo.aaos.org. Click on the Patient-Centered Care link.
- The National Institute on Aging has a fact sheet ‘Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People,’ at the website niapublications.org/pubs/talking/index.asp.
- The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has many helpful fact sheets on safer health care at ahrq.gov.