Ten Tips To Get The Doc You Need

How to own your health.

Posted Nov 21, 2013

But, really, we put our health in the hands of these professionals, so our opinion of them has to include personal trust as well as professional respect. I wrote about this recently in Do You Ever Think Your Doctor Just Doesn't Like You?

But what to do when you are in the middle land, where the doc is OK, but not stellar, where you hit it off and things are going fine but you wonder if maybe he’s just not that into you? Some tips: 

1. Trust your gut. If you don’t like the doc, he just might feel the same way, and that could affect your treatment. Those little voices in our heads often are pretty wise, getting right to the heart of the matter, going deeper than the intellectual arguments we usually live by, which often miss the point of how we actually feel. If you are dealing with a serious illness, you need to trust your doc. Period.

 2. Get the best care you can afford. If this means heading out of town, do it. Your health is a big deal; it deserves the best docs. US News and World Report ranks U.S. hospitals, with links to various specialties.

3. Do your research. Go to the professional association that deals with your specific illness—the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association and so on. You’ll usually find enough information to help you ask the right questions. Don't try to diagnose your own illness, but do try to learn as much about it as you can.  

4. Ask questions. A good doctor will take time to answer them. When I was going through breast cancer, my radiation oncologist even drew a picture for me, explaining how radiation works. More evidence that she was good. She spent more than an hour talking about all types of treatment with me and my husband. And she treated me like a smart adult who could understand her. I needed that. I deserved that. So do you.

5. Write down the answers. And ask the doc to repeat anything that you don't understand. I still consult my breast cancer treatment notebook, in which I wrote what the doctor said—direct quotes in quote marks, journalist that I am. This comes in handy for follow-up research. I have kept that book the seven years past treatment, and use it to track my blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and other vitals.

6. Call back with questions. This is your life. If things aren’t making sense the way they should, ask. It is your doctor’s job to answer. Yes, docs are busy, but being shy doesn't get you a date to the dance, let alone help from your doc.

7. Respect even the worst doctors. First, respect breeds respect. Second, these folks spend their lives around disease, so they deserve a break. That said, if they are not serving you well, go elsewhere. You can highly respect somebody at the same time not want them in charge of your health. Again, that little voice in your head. Listen.

8. Find a patient advocate. If you cannot wrap your head around this information, don’t try to go it alone. Try to get your treatment at a medical center that has a nurse navigator or advocate program—these people are trained to help you make sense of treatment. They ask the questions you don’t know to ask, and they understand the answers.

9. Get copies of all your reports, especially your pathology reports. This is how I found out what doctors said about me.

10. Own your health. Pay attention to your body so you can be precise with your symptoms. Consider creating a health diary that includes ailments and anything that might have caused them. Take note of your diet and exercise as well, as these are essential to good health. And note any change in your normal, especially stressful experiences. We react to changes in our environment and the only person who can track that is you.