We need to take a more responsible role in the care for our health. To have the quality healthcare we deserve requires more than just choosing a good insurance company. We must also choose a doctor who is the right fit for us. Although doctors have taken a vow “to do no harm,” they cannot know everything. It is impossible. But they must do their due diligence to map out the proper treatment, and we must do our due diligence in selecting and questioning them.
My father, who is 80, had been seeing the same doctor for many years. Despite better than normal readings, his doctor wanted to prescribe a medication for him that we felt was unnecessary for him to take. This was just one of a couple of incidents that happened. As a result, we changed his physician to one who specialized in gerontology, who became a perfect fit, and my father could not be in better health.
Most of us usually trust and accept whatever treatment the doctor proposes. Even after trying it for a while with no results, we often continue. Patients seem to fear the consequences of going against treatment plans developed by their physicians, but we are doing ourselves a great disservice if we do not ask questions and make demands.
Doctors are not completely at fault here. Granted, some doctors are too arrogant to admit they are wrong, or too stubborn to continue their education on updated methods. And others may be swayed by pharmaceutical companies to try their products. But we, too, are at fault. We show up for our appointments, give our doctors selective information, and expect an instant cure. That is not enough. We are living much longer, but with conditions that limit our quality life and are not necessarily associated with aging.
As patients, we must also take ownership in our preventative care and the treatment of diagnosed conditions. So, our wellbeing must be a collaborative effort. We cannot just pick a primary care doctor and stay with that person for years, for as long as they continue to practice. A child eventually ages out from seeing a pediatrician and needs to see an internal medicine doctor. In a perfect world this might be great because they know our history, and we have obviously built a bond of trust.
But again, this is not enough. We need to be proactive and educate ourselves. We trust an accountant to provide financial information and advice, but we are not just going to hand over our accounts and depend on them to make sure the bills are paid. Nor should we do this with our doctors. As our bodies change, our needs change and we need different doctors, not just the same primary we may have had for years. There are many different specialty doctors out there and we need them all. Our primary has gotten us this far, but to receive the best care for our quality of life, not just quantity, education, teamwork and communication are key. We must also do our due diligence by asking questions, being truthful in providing information, following instructions, and speaking up when things are not working. Like doctors, we do not know everything.
And if, with all this effort put forth, we still feel we are not getting what we need, we must trust our gut and find a different provider. No one knows us or is going to advocate for us better than we can for ourselves. We have access to resources to help us make the correct decisions for our health. No longer should we just accept a doctor’s decision based on his say so. We have a whole team we can receive information from, including nurses, case managers, nutritionists, and pharmacists. We have the right to agree or disagree with a doctor, but never go into a decision lightly. We have been putting all the responsibility on the doctors, but we have a job, too.
Natalie McCants is self-employed, living and working in Boston. Her interests are advocacy and education.
We, Too, Are America is made possible through “Democracy and the Informed Citizen,” an initiative administered by the Federation of State Humanities Council through a grant from the Mellon Foundation.