I have been a healthy person most of my life. I try to eat healthy, exercise daily, and try not to be stressed. In my late 30s, I was diagnosed with chronic allergies. My doctor informed me that I had become allergic to things that grew from the ground, bloomed, or had chlorophyll. Being a native Mississippian where farm living was a way of life, I never heard of allergies with killer like symptoms. Who knew beautiful blooms could leave one feeling deathly ill? The more I dismissed the severity of my diagnosis, the sicker I got. My suddenly hazy, foggy thinking, watery eyed, itchy buzzing ears, hacking coughs that jarred my lungs, nasally headaches, asthmatic breathing bed ridden new world was complicated by my disdain for pill prescribing fifteen-minutes-per-patient doctors.
My odyssey into the world of allergen-free, pollen dodging living included learning the importance of communicating with doctors for optimum health success and using the internet effectively to research all I could. I learned, immediately, that the internet is a powerful tool for patient advocacy but should never be used to replace seeing a doctor. I also learned the doctor-patient relationship is not stressed enough in the medical marketplace. As consumers of services, patients must view their doctors as partners in their healthcare in the era of healthcare reform. As the healthcare industry is being pushed to changing its dinosaur ways of dealing with patients, patients must also be pushed to change how they see the role of their doctors.
Patients must work with their doctors for a healthier, more productive lifestyle. Too often, a patient is looking for a “quick fix” and the doctor is limited on time to “fix” the problem. A doctor’s short-on-time-treating-of-symptoms mixed with a patient’s please-help-me-now-with-a-pill thinking can become an endless cycle of returned visits that can leave the root of the medical problem undiagnosed for years. Those return visits add to escalating medical costs. Medical bills are directly related to over 62% of bankruptcies in the United States.
I became an informed patient not because I wanted to bypass medical school and get an internet doctor’s degree but out of necessity. My finances would not allow multiple visits to a medical doctor without sound solutions. Most importantly, I wanted to get well and not become dependent on endless medication. Being self-employed, 1099s do not have health benefits attached to them. My insurance coverage is for major medical bills. In Tennessee, seeing newcomers to our area slumped over in ERs for allergy ailments is becoming more and more common. My average allergy ER visit cost $4800. Although $4800 for watery eyes and breathing complications is expensive; it is not considered major medical by most insurance companies.
Whether you are a recent transplant to an area who suffers from allergies or been raised in Tennessee with a reoccurring ache, one must be proactive in getting the best care from your doctor and to maximum your doctor visits for better results. Having a patient centered doctor relationship is essential for that healthcare. An open and transparent relationship with your doctor can also reduce long term medical costs.
My path to becoming an empowered patient was realizing the trees and flowers that triggered my worst allergy symptoms were here to stay. I had to learn to navigate through the spring months when my health was impacted the most. I could not have done so without my doctor’s care. As in any relationship, communication is essential for best practices to be utilized. Learning to share my concerns with my doctor was crucial to my healthcare. Here are a few tips to help avoid pitfalls that may be detrimental to staying healthy and fit.
• Write it down. Written notes help the appointment to stay on track and keep one from forgetting vital information.
• Where does it hurt? Share any problems you are having. Do not leave out the ‘bad stuff.’
• Bring your family and personal medical history. Some conditions may be inherited.
• Share stress factors. Are you going through a divorce, new job, loss of income, a troubled teen, or a recent death of a loved one? Stress can affect your health adversely.
• List all medications you are currently taking and dosage.
• Do not forget to share if you are taking supplements. Some supplements should not be taken with certain medications.
• Speak up and ask questions. No question should be considered dumb or off limits. It is your health and your time with your doctor.
• If you do not understand something that has been shared, say so. It is part of relationship building with your doctor.
• Bring a family member or friend with you. Two sets of ears are better than one. They also can recall incidents you might have overlooked or dismissed as not important.
• Follow up with your doctor. The best healthcare plan is not of any good if it does not work for you. Be sure to share with the doctor what is working or not right away.
• Follow through. In order for anything to work, one must work it. Often times a visit to doctor is just that, a visit.
Follow the instructions given and take the medications as prescribed. Most doctors remind patients to eat sensibly, exercise regularly, and get plenty of rest whether a patient is ill or not. Often times that advice, as simplistic as it is, remains behind in the doctor’s office.
In a healthcare marketplace that is being driven by skyrocketing costs and never ending political debates, we must find ways to not allow the cost of our healthcare to determine how we survive and thrive economically. Doctors who value the patient doctor relationship and patients who seek healthcare professional that value partnerships must become more visible in the marketplace as we strive to become a healthier nation.