Having a Partnership with Your Doctor

By: Sherry Netherland, Director of Special Projects for Assisted Healthcare Services

My father hated doctors.  My father believed that just going to the doctor made you sick. For him, it was out of sight out of mind.  He was of the “walk it off” school of healthcare.  I have no memory of him going to the doctor when I was growing up.  If he were ever sick, and I can’t even recall his even having a cold, I am sure my father would have hesitated to call a doctor assuming that whatever ailed him would eventually go away.  As kids we were expected to have the same iron constitution and my brother and I would proudly display our perfect attendance awards received multiple years in a row from our elementary school.

Fast forward to my father’s senior years.  In his later life, my father developed multiple myeloma and was now obligated to go to a doctor on a regular basis.  He was fortunate to have an early diagnosis but my being 3,000 miles away made my keeping tabs on his health challenging to say the least.  When I knew he had a medical appointment, I would call him and inquire, “What did the doctor say, Dad?”  My father’s standard reply?  “Ah, the doctor said what doctors say.”  Really.

My father was not a good partner with his doctor.  In fact, I had to be my Dad’s partner with his doctor.  I am sure that my father’s doctor was relieved to have this relationship with me.  Even though I was across the country, I was able to contact my Dad’s doctor and act as medical interpreter for my father and work with my father’s physician to ensure that my father was compliant with his medical regimen.

How do you become a good partner with your doctor?  Or, like me, if you have a family member who cannot speak on their own behalf (for whatever reason) how do you intervene?

Here are some simple steps to follow:

Take your basic information with you to every appointment.

Take a plain piece of paper and label it PRESCRIPTION AND NON-PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS.  Draw three columns down the page.  Label the first one, MEDICATION, the second, DOCTOR’S NAME OR OVER-THE-COUNTER, the third, WHAT IT’S FOR.

List everything you are taking down the first column.  In the second column, match it with the name of the prescribing physician, or indicate “over-the-counter.”  In the third column you want to write why you are taking it, e.g., “for blood pressure,” or “for constipation.”  It is very important to include all your non-prescription, over-the-counter supplements and any herbal preparations, or other self-prescribed treatments, like Metamucil.  There are many common over-the-counter preparations which can negatively interact with prescription medications.  Your doctor needs to know EVERYTHING you are taking.

Take another piece of paper and label it PHYSICIANS.  Draw three columns down the page.  Label the first column, DOCTOR’S NAME, the second column, PHONE NUMBER, the third column, SPECIALTY.

Your regular physician should be made aware of any specialists you are seeing or have been seeing.  You might have started seeing a podiatrist.  Don’t forget to let your regular doctor know.

Plan for your doctor’s visit.

My father used to say, “The doctor is a busy man, he doesn’t want to be bothered with my questions.”  FALSE!  You help your doctor provide good care when you keep him or her abreast of what’s happening with you.  Don’t keep secrets!

WRITE DOWN YOUR QUESTIONS IN ADVANCE!  When some people see a white coat, everything they thought they’d remember when they saw the doctor flies right out of their head.

What has changed since your last appointment?

Do you fully understand your diagnosis?

Do you have any questions regarding your medications?

Do you have any questions regarding your treatments or other treatment options?

COMMUNICATION TIP –Restate your instructions from your physician during your appointment so your physician can hear that you understand them.  For example, “So, Dr. Jones, I should be taking my medication twice a day, when I wake up in the morning and at bedtime.  What if I go to bed at 1am and wake up at 6 am? Should I still take the medications when I wake up and at bedtime? Are there specific times I should be taking it?”

Doctors really like keeping you in the best health possible.  It does not take up their time when you come to them with a prepared list of questions and concerns.  In fact, it makes for a calmer, more productive appointment where both the patient and the doctor feel satisfied.


Sherry Netherland is the Director of Special Projects for Assisted Healthcare Services, a Medicare certified, CHAP accredited home health agency with 7 branches in California and Arizona. She founded the Assisted Speakers Bureau and she speaks on a variety of healthcare related issues. To learn more about private duty nursing and how Assisted can help, www.assisted1.com/home_health_care.

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