5 Ways to Stop Being a Passive Patient

By Frederick Frost, MD


It’s high time for patients to take an active role in their own healthcare.

There was a time when many people had long-term relationships with a family doctor – someone who knew them and their families well.

But today, that kind of relationship is a thing of the past. Primary care physicians move around, care is parceled out among specialists, and a rotating stream of doctors will see you while you’re admitted in a hospital.

So who will be the captain of the ship when it comes to managing your healthcare? It has to be you, the patient. You have to be your own case manager to make sure that you’re getting the care you deserve.

How can you take charge of your healthcare? Here are five suggestions:

1) Go from being passive to active

Too many times, patients take a passive role in their healthcare, letting the doctor make all of their decisions with blind trust. I see patients who take pills but don’t know what they are or why they take them. You’ll get the best outcome when you are engaged, informed and active in your care. If you don’t feel a connection with your doctor, move on.

2) Come to grips with medicine’s limitations

Some things can’t be fixed. There’s not a cure for everything, and more treatment is not always better. Sadly, many doctors often promote the opposite. Sometimes the best we can do is control symptoms.

3) Educate yourself

I think it’s fine to Google everything about your condition. It’s how you’ll become versed in the language of medicine. However, you may gain knowledge but not perspective. Where you’ll get into trouble is in chat rooms, which are not a good place to find your medical advice. Be a smart consumer of Internet information like you would be with anything else.

4) Assemble your team

If you have a doctor and a group of specialists, it’s your job to make sure they are talking to each other. Get copies of your medical records and walk them down to the doctor’s office if that’s what it takes. If it’s not your job, then whose is it?

5) Manage your doctors

The time a doctor can spend with you is limited. There’s no way around it. Do everything you can to use that time wisely. Organize your thoughts, bring a notebook, ask questions. Be assertive. Don’t make what we call a “doorknob complaint” — waiting until your doctor’s about to leave the room before raising your concerns.

Frederick Frost, MD, is Department Chair of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Executive Director of Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation and Sports Therapy. He is a board-certified specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation and spinal cord injury medicine. He writes for the Cleveland Clinic HealthHub where this article originally appeared.

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