How to Be a Good Patient: Stop Being Polite. Start Speaking Up.

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When you were a child, your parents likely rewarded you for being polite, following orders, and refraining from challenging their assertions. As adults and as health consumers, we sometimes perceive doctors the same way we did our parents in terms of authority. 

Compliance is not always a beneficial characteristic in the health sphere, however. Being a “good” patient doesn’t mean you simply do everything your doctor says. Good patients make good health decisions, and sometimes that means challenging doctors, asking difficult questions, and getting a second opinion. 

Our goal here at MediFind is to help patients receive the highest quality of care, but unfortunately, this doesn’t always come wrapped up in a sweet box with a tightly-wrapped bow. Navigating a complicated health journey may require being proactive, disagreeing with your doctor, and getting additional perspective on your care. And this is OK. 

Note that we aren’t saying that you should always disagree with your doctor or that you should never be polite—quite the contrary. But using politeness as an excuse for not speaking up, being honest, and voicing your concerns can result in miscommunication between you and your doctor and less-than-ideal health outcomes. In this article, we will explore why it’s essential to be honest with your doctors and speak up, and how to be proactive with your healthcare so you can make the best decisions.

Be Honest and Hide Nothing

Be Honest and Hide Nothing

In two national surveys, 60-80% of Americans admitted they avoided telling the truth to doctors and withheld information that could be relevant to their health. A third of respondents stated they disagreed with the doctors’ advice, and more than one in five failed to disclose their unhealthy lifestyle habits. 

Why did they lie to their doctors? Respondents mentioned they either felt embarrassed or were afraid of getting judged or being lectured. They didn’t want to waste the doctor’s time or be a “difficult” patient. 

As reported by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, chair of population health sciences at the University of Utah Health, Angela Fagerlin, “Most people want their doctor to think highly of them…They’re worried about being pigeonholed as someone who doesn’t make good decisions.”

Being honest and straightforward with your doctor does not mean you are a difficult patient. It means you are an advocate for your own health. And good doctors respect and welcome patients who boldly voice their concerns and exercise complete transparency. 

Withholding information may also prevent you from receiving the highest quality of care. Good doctors welcome back-and-forth communication as their goal is for you to feel safe and comfortable with your treatment plan. Doctors are on your side, but they need 100% participation to offer the highest quality of care. 

On the flip side, if you feel you can’t trust your doctor, then it may be time to get a second opinion. Revealing personal details to your doctor will only happen when you feel you can trust them 100%.

Speak Up and Voice Your Concerns

It’s OK to disagree with and question your doctor. If your doctor says something that doesn’t sit well with you or you disagree with a statement, don’t be afraid to speak up. For example, if you receive a cancer diagnosis from your oncologist that doesn’t feel right, ask about other possible diagnoses. You might also want to search for another oncologist to give you a second opinion. If you receive a treatment plan that doesn’t fit your lifestyle, ask about alternative treatment options. If your doctor is unwilling to talk through alternative options and hear your concerns, it’s OK to get a second opinion. Sometimes the doctor-patient fit just isn’t right. 

Listen and Ask Questions

Be attentive to what your doctor says so you can ask the right questions. Typical patient questions may involve:

  • Diagnosis explanation and details
  • Symptom management
  • Treatment plans
  • Medication side effects
  • Medication dosage
  • Follow-up appointments
  • Home programs (exercise, diet recommendations)
Listen and Ask Questions

If you want to exercise patient autonomy, consider compiling a list of questions before you go to the doctor. Prioritize the questions so if you do not get to all of them, you can make a second appointment. 

How to Be Proactive With Your Medical Care

If you aren’t facing a life-threatening medical situation that necessitates urgent care, consider stepping back a bit and taking a proactive approach. If you aren’t quite ready or comfortable enough to jump into a treatment plan, below are some steps you can take before you move forward.

Talk to Other Patients

It may be beneficial to speak to other patients who have been diagnosed with your condition. Your conversations may give you a different perspective into care and treatment options you might not have thought of. 

Just be careful not to substitute this information for medical advice as you may encounter some misinformation, especially when speaking to people you don’t know. The purpose of communicating with patients is to gain more perspective and information you can share with your doctor.

Do Your Own Research

If you already received a diagnosis and are contemplating your next steps, you may want to do a little research on your condition to get better informed. 

According to Dr. Lissa Rankin, “Some doctors let their egos interfere with optimal patient care, and it’s possible that you actually know more about your disease than your doctor does. This is especially true if your disease is rare or if you have been researching your illness personally.”  

We are not suggesting to rummage through the first page of Google looking for articles about your condition. Researching credible resources is critical. Consult reputable medical websites, national organizations, academic medical centers, and government websites.  

For quick and easy research, use MediFind to discover reputable medical information on your condition. MediFind is an advanced medical platform that uses proprietary artificial intelligence algorithms to connect patients with high-quality healthcare. Unlike any other platform, MediFind gathers and integrates health data from dozens of medical datasets to help patients better understand their condition, find the latest research, and locate medical doctors who are experts in their condition.

Do Your Own Research
Example: MediFind’s condition page for the disorder Pemphigus vulgaris (PV) includes top global doctors, current and past research, treatments, clinical trials, condition information, and more. 

Finding reliable medical information on your condition is simple and easy. Go to MediFind’s home page and enter your condition to perform a condition-specific search:

medifind homepage

If you are unsure about your condition and would like some assistance narrowing down a potential diagnosis to discuss with your doctor, try MediFind’s Symptom Checker

Get a Second Opinion

In a study published by the BMJ Quality & Safety healthcare journal, researchers estimated that approximately 12 million adults in the U.S. are misdiagnosed every year, and half of these misdiagnoses could potentially be harmful. 

Misdiagnoses are not always common, but they do happen, especially in serious conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, or rare diseases. 

It may be beneficial to consult with an expert in your condition, not just a general specialist. So for example, if you were diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, you might want to talk to an MS expert, in addition to your neurologist. Getting a second opinion can help you confirm your diagnosis or simply get a different take on your condition and care options, so you can feel more confident entering the next part of your healthcare journey. 

Aside from confirming a diagnosis, there’s nothing wrong with getting a fresh set of eyes on your care and a different perspective. Even if you have confidence in your original diagnosis, getting a second opinion may give you an alternate point of view that will be helpful when making care decisions.  

MediFind understands how critical it is to work with doctors who are condition-specific experts, especially if you are diagnosed with a rare or complex condition. Getting a quality second opinion is essential, and many times this warrants finding a doctor who is an expert in your specific condition. Doctors who focus on the care and treatment of one or a few conditions are likely to have additional insights into your care and treatment than your original doctor. 

The key with this process is to glean as much information as you can, so you are presented with all relevant care options. MediFind’s Second Opinion Finder is a comprehensive search platform that enables you to quickly and easily search for doctors who are experts in specific conditions and at the forefront of research in their fields. 

To use the Second Opinion Finder, input your condition, your doctor’s name, and a location, and MediFind will provide a list of local doctors based on your inputs. 

MediFind’s Second Opinion Finder
The Second Opinion Finder’s search results page for doctors who are experts in the condition Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). Clicking on a doctor provides users with additional information on the doctor and related studies and clinical trials. 

MediFind’s Second Opinion Finder is unlike other doctor-finder tools you may have already used. It gathers medical data that is not easily accessible to health consumers and assigns a condition-specific “expertise level” by assessing criteria such as a doctor’s publications, industry connections, number of patients the physician has treated with the condition, and more. Read more to learn how the MediFind platform works.

Be a Good Patient by Advocating For Your Health

Should you be polite and courteous? Of course. But, never as an excuse not to advocate for your own health and get the answers and the information you deserve. In the end, you are the one making the critical decisions. The more you know, the better prepared you will be, and the better health decisions you will make. 

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