The Good Patient

Getting the Best Care - October 31, 2015

More than twenty years ago I worked as a clerk at a retail job. Like most people who work in a service industry my co-workers and I sometimes complained about the "difficult customers" we encountered. While we had to treat everyone with courtesy frankly it was easier to do our job well for the customers who were kind and respectful when they interacted with us. There is no doubt that even though we put on a brave face and did our best for the customers who were rude and demanding to us they did not get the best service from us. It is simple; good customers get the best treatment. Since healthcare is also a service industry and the technicians, nurses and doctors who provide service are also human beings you will find you get the best care when you are a good patient.

What does it mean to be a good patient? There isn't a simple answer to this question, all situations are unique. However there are a few things that are somewhat universal that patients can do to make it easier for healthcare providers to do their job well.

Follow Orders
The first thing that I recommend is the most obvious thing one can do, which is follow the orders and recommendations you are given. This is so basic and fundamental that it hardly seems worth mentioning except that I know patients often don't actually do what their healthcare professionals advise. People may fail to follow orders for a variety of reasons. They may not fully understand why they are told to do or they may not realize the importance of doing it. Also sometimes patients intend to do it and then forget for some reason. It is critical that you do what is recommended and if you know that you probably won't do it tell them the truth about it. For example if your physical therapist tells you to do certain exercises every day but you know that it's just too difficult to do them be honest that you probably won't do it. This may allow them to offer an alternative recommendation or they more fully explain to you why they are recommending it and help you create a plan for doing at least some exercises instead of none. By complying whenever you can and being honest when you can't or won't comply allows the healthcare provider to adjust the treatment plan and recommendations so that you have a better chance of success.

Tell Them Everything
Even when you are following your providers' recommendations completely it is also important to tell them as much as possible about your progress. I always tell patients to err on the side of over sharing rather than not sharing information about symptoms or side effects of treatment. Your healthcare providers are experts and they typically know more about the big picture of your care than you do. There were several times when my husband was talking to a doctor about his condition and almost didn't mention a new minor issue that had come up and when the doctor learned about it that changed the treatment plan. Sometimes things that may seem minor or insignificant to you may indicate something important to the bigger picture of your treatment plan. The more your healthcare providers know the better they can support you.

Be organized
Nearly every time you see a doctor you can be certain that they will ask you for the list of your current medications. Even if nothing has changed in your medications they will always ask you to review the list and confirm that nothing has changed. This may seem annoying to you but this process of check lists is an important part of how your healthcare providers manage your care. Prepare a list of every medication and supplement you are taking before your appointment so you can quickly list your medications and doses to the nurse or medical assistant. It's also wise to prepare a list of questions for your doctor before your appointment. You may also want to think of all the symptoms or issues that you are aware of and jot down some notes about them. Since your time with the doctor is often limited you can use that time most effectively if your thoughts and questions are organized in advance. Make sure you take notes when the doctor or nurses give you instructions.

Arrive On Time
Most healthcare providers will tell you that one of their biggest pet peeves is patients who arrive late for appointments. I realize this may sound like a bit of a double standard because it's pretty common for patients to have to wait after their appointments. Oftentimes urgent situations cause doctors to fall behind schedule and it only compounds the problem if patients are not on time and it delays them further.

Be Polite
When you are coping with health issues it is common to feel tired and you often may feel mentally and physically exhausted. Usually you will also experience some difficulties from bureaucracy of the medical system which will further frustrate you. This is the perfect storm that may lead you to sometimes be grumpy and you may inadvertently take your frustrations out on the medical staff. While all patients have a right to sometimes have bad days and most care providers are understanding when this happens, try to be aware of your manners. Simple things such as saying thank you and acknowledging staff for what they do is really appreciated. If you are having a tough day be honest with staff about it so they can give you space and respond most appropriately to make you feel comfortable.

Getting the best care is a partnership between the patient and the healthcare providers. It requires both sides to work together. By doing your part to be a good patient you increase the odds of making the entire process work better for everyone.