With back-to-school season in full swing, it can be daunting to manage your own busy schedule—let alone your family's. So even when you feel a sore throat coming on for the third time this month or that daily headache is really starting to slow you down, you might be tempted to blow it off. But that's a bad idea.
Leslie D. Michelson, author of the new book The Patient's Playbook: How to Save Your Life and the Lives of Those You Love, urges people to take control of their own healthcare in a system where it sometimes feels impossible to be seen without waiting months for an appointment or hours in a waiting room. As the CEO of Private Health Management, Michelson advocates on behalf of his clients who face rare or complex medical issues. His passion for helping others started as a young child where he personally took charge of his father's healthcare after faced with questionable diagnosis.
His advice is rather practical and simple but is something that would've personally saved me countless procedures and prescriptions while dealing with my own medical mystery just a few years ago. Here are eight points Michelson urges all of us to consider when faced with a serious health issue.
1. Recognize when your doctor is out of line. We tend to instill heroism in those who wear white coats. However, not all doctors are knights in shining armor, and they can make mistakes. It's important to know the difference between a doctor who's distracted by other patients and one who's downright disrespecting you. For instance, Michelson explains how one doctor scolded a 27-year-old woman for not being married and starting a family yet. Similarly, Michelson urges people to seek alternative care when a doctor doesn't take the time to listen to their symptoms and says, "I see several patients a week with the same problem. Here's a prescription that should help."
2. Interview your potential PCP as you would a job candidate. After all, you technically are hiring this person. So make a list of important qualities you want your doctor to possess (i.e. timely, organized, understanding). Ask for recommendations from those you trust, and set up informational interviews with possible candidates. This is not a physical exam but rather a consult where you should discuss goals and ask questions to help narrow your search. Depending on your insurance company, you may or may not be charged for the visit. However, you should remind the doctor's staff that you're not there for a physical so that the consultation can be coded properly.
3. Request copies of your medical records. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) guarantees you the right to receive a copy of your records, so don't feel uncomfortable asking for one. It's important to review your reports and be better educated for your next visit. In some cases, you may be asked to pay for the copying and mailing costs, but each state sets a limit for how much they can charge.
4. Draft a quarterback. It's imperative to find a supportive friend or family member to help you. Make sure your go-to is trustworthy, organized, a good researcher and emotionally empathetic. Although you may feel awkward asking someone to play this role, you'll thank yourself should you find yourself with a serious health issue.
5. Go beyond Google. A simple online search can be very overwhelming when faced with a new diagnosis. Instead of getting lost in the Internet, hone in on the issue. For information on specific conditions, use National Institutes of Health or Medline Plus. For checking out experts, use State Medical Licensing Boards or American Board of Medical Specialists.
6. Always get a second opinion. The U.S. wasted roughly $750 billion (of its $2.7 trillion healthcare budget) on unnecessary treatments, tests and procedures, found a 2013 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And that same year a Journal of Patient Safety report showed that 400,000 Americans died every year due to medical error, unnecessary surgery or fatal injections.
7. Keep a medical checklist on you. Whether written on a laminated card and kept in your wallet or typed in a document on a USB drive, keep an abridged version of your medical history with you at all times in case of an emergency. Details should include: allergies, current medications, serious diseases, family history (strokes, heart attacks, etc.), your PCP, and an emergency contact. Be sure to update this checklist whenever a condition or medication changes.
8. Evaluate emergency situations before acting. If you feel (or you witness) signs of troubled breathing, vomiting, abdominal pain or increased pain, call 911. For minor cuts, sprains or injuries, go to your local urgent care center.
Jennifer Cole is an editorial intern at Parents magazine who loves barre classes, dark chocolate and curly haired pups. Follow her on Twitter: @jcole918