Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Advice: The Best Approach to Getting Good Health Care

The Doctor (film)Image via Wikipedia

As much as I wish it were not so, my life continues to be tied closely to the health care system. It amazes me that I am still surprised by this fact. Perhaps it is a small yet tenacious bit of denial on my part, seeing myself as a healthy chronically ill person. Since my cancer diagnosis back in 1988, I have said, "For a healthy person, I sure have a lot of health problems."

At this point, I admit that I can no longer keep track of all the doctors I have seen. I simply cannot tell you the number who have treated me. What I can tell you is my approach to working with medical providers. My bottom line: if I don't have a good working relationship with my doctor, I don't keep seeing them.

At their best, doctors work to end human suffering. In their finest hour, they save lives ... maybe even our life. They dedicate years of their lives learning how the human body works and how to treat all the illnesses and conditions that threaten us with disability and death. With advances in technology, chemistry and biology, they make the impossible happen on a daily basis.

But doctors are humans too. They make mistakes. They get distracted. They don't always listen to their patients or believe them when they report their symptoms. They sometimes get discouraged when the treatments they prescribe don't work. Sometimes they believe that their patients don't want to get better, or are causing their symptoms or are not taking their treatments as prescribed. Some get burned out and lose their ability to really care for their patients. Others get so frustrated they stop treating patients, forcing them to seek medical care elsewhere.

I know because these things have happened to me.

I try very hard to have empathy for doctors because I imagine it must be very hard to be one. Society puts them on a plane above most other human beings, turning them into gods. So much is expected of them that when they make a mistake it's called malpractice. I imagine it's a big job keeping up with all the medical research, let alone the long hours, being on call and the sheer number of patients needing to be seen.

As much as I want to give each doctor a chance to work with me and help me manage my multiple health problems, the reality is that not every doctor I see can help me. As much as I would almost be relieved to do "just as the doctor orders," I've learned that good health care is all about the relationship between the doctor and patient and working together to address health concerns. As much as I want to be completely and totally healthy, I know that for some of the things that ail me there is no curative course of treatment.

Yes, in this health care system, I am reluctantly the managing member of my health care team. Through much trial and error, I think I now know what I need to do to get my health care needs met. I've realized that for me to achieve my health related goals, I can't keep doctors on my team that aren't willing, able and interested in working collaboratively with me. I can't keep doctors on my team that can't admit when they don't know, can't help or make a mistake. I can't keep doctors on my team that are easily discouraged or take their frustration out on their patients.

Getting good health care takes a lot of work for patients too. It took me many appointments and a few years to finally find a team of doctors that truly works with me. I now reap the benefits of collaborative relationships with each of my doctors, which far outweighs the frustrations and discouragements encountered in the search to find them.

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