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How to be an informed patient

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We go to the doctor to get well—and stay well. But what you do during the doctor’s appointment can make a big difference toward improving health. Being an informed patient leads to better communication, clarity and, ultimately, better care.

Meet the new doctor

In today’s age of technology, even the most minor aches and pains can cause many of us to turn to Dr. Google—which can give helpful information at best and scare us into thinking we have every disease listed at worst. But is turning to the internet inherently a bad thing? And can we use the internet to be more informed?

“There are a ton of great resources online,” says Yung-Hsi Wen, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Adventist Health Glendale. “But you shouldn’t make up your mind based on what you read on the Internet.”

Dr. Wen says that researching your symptoms before your appointment can be beneficial. “Patients who come in with a list of questions are interested and motivated. I can help them understand where their concerns are valid and address what applies to them.”

Enhancing the patient-provider relationship

When used optimally, technology can provide people with even more options for accessing healthcare. “One of the biggest tools I have found to be beneficial is the ability to communicate directly with patients through their online patient portal,” says Ross Hanchett, MD, an OB-GYN at Adventist Health and Rideout. “If a patient is having a question about symptoms, they can message me through the portal and ask for resources. That way, I can provide patients with peer-reviewed, credible material.”

Communicating between visits can be especially helpful in coordinating an effective care plan. “There’s an overload of information out there,” says Dr. Hanchett. “When you have established a strong patient-provider relationship, your doctor can help you sort through what applies to you and what doesn’t.”

Don’t limit your options

Gathering information online can be helpful. But your doctor is there for a reason. “If a patient walks into my office and has already made up their mind about their condition or treatment, then what value am I providing?” says Dr. Wen.

While it’s important to bring up any concerns, don’t limit yourself to what you’ve already read. There is a lot of research taking place and medicine is constantly changing and improving. Your doctor is there to provide medical expertise and be an ally to help you find the best treatment option for you.

“My options to care for a patient become extremely limited when they come in with an agenda,” Dr. Hanchett says. “As a healthcare provider, I am here to have honest and productive conversations with patients about what is best for them.”

Preparing for your next appointment

Before a doctor’s visit, check to make sure you’ve filled out all necessary forms, either online or in person. If you’re seeing a new provider, bring a list of your current medications, and be ready to share your family and medical history.

One of the most important takeaways for patients is to write down symptoms, questions and concerns before actually sitting in the doctor’s office. “I can’t tell you how many times a day I hear a patient say that they had questions but can’t remember them in the moment,” Dr. Hanchett shares.

Dr. Wen agrees, “If you have a written list of your concerns, it really helps to set priorities for your visit, maximize and make the best use of the time you have with your doctor.”