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Once in a while someone asks me, "If you could only give one answer, what would you say is the most important piece of advice you could give someone who wants to be an empowered patient?"
Hoo-boy. That's not an easy question to answer! There are so many important skills we empowered patients need. However - having given it a lot of thought over the past many years, I have honed in on the most important. And that is....communication.
Learning to be a smart communicator in every aspect of your interface with the health care system will be the skill that serves you the best and helps you find the best outcomes for your situation.
What comprises good communication? Three things. First, it needs to be respectful. Second, it needs to focus on managing expectations - your own and others’. Third, it needs to be accurate, including the importance of follow-through.
But a lot of descriptive words aren't as helpful as good examples. So we’ll take each aspect of good communication one at a time, beginning with respect.
Respect: Many of us are intimidated by doctors, as if somehow their extensive educations or expensive homes make them smarter or better than we are. Sometimes we are intimidated by a doctor’s use of big medical words, or her brusque, non-communicative nature. Compounding those hurdles is the fact that many of us were raised to put doctors on some sort of pedestal.
But you wouldn't accept intimidation from your car mechanic - so why would you accept it from a doctor who is, in effect, a body mechanic?
Good communication is a two way street. It means we treat our doctors with respect, but we command respect in return by our words and actions, too.
Remember that your relationship with your doctor should be 50-50. Your doctor brings 50 percent to the relationship by way of education and medical experience. You bring 50 percent by your knowledge and experience with your body. After all, you are the only person who has ever lived in your body! Now it’s up to you to be sure that 50-50 relationship holds true.
If your doctor uses a word that you don't understand, ask her to clarify.