Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Health Care Experience

Whether you are seeing a physician, counsellor, physiotherapist or other health professional, here are my tips for getting the most out of your visits:

If You Don’t Advocate for Yourself, Who Will?

It can be intimidating to speak with health professionals.  We may discount our own thoughts in feelings in favour of expert advice. While some humility can be warranted, speaking up can be important, and in some cases, life saving.  Consider:

  • If you don’t say what’s ailing or worrying you, your problem cannot be properly addressed, diagnosed or treated. The more information you have to give your health care provider, the better.  Sometimes, in a therapy session, clients may be reluctant to discuss aspects of their lives that they consider embarrassing or shameful. If you trust your counsellor, revealing this information may be a risk worth taking.  Chances are, your therapist has helped others with similar problems and if your rapport or connection is good, they will not judge you (and even if it’s not, they shouldn’t either). Revealing your fears to someone you trust can have a powerful effect in reducing stigma and isolation.
  • If you rely on someone else to consistently be your voice, their account may not reflect your experience. While from time to time, you may need help expressing yourself, particularly if you are highly anxious, ultimately you are living your situation, not them. Have faith in your own voice and capabilities. You may need to “fake it ’till you make it” at first. Stepping forward and consistently trying is how confidence grows.
  • If your instincts tell you to insist, do. A friend of mine detected a suspicious mole and insisted to her family doctor that it be tested.  After some reluctance the doctor collected a tissue sample and was shocked to learn that the testing revealed skin cancer.  It’s an obvious point, but professionals are human and can make mistakes.

It’s Good to ask Questions

  • Understanding what’s going on with your health is important. Ask questions to help get the answers you need and ask that the answers be explained in everyday terms, unless you are a health professional yourself.
  • It can help to think of your questions before your appointment.  Even better, write a list. This can help to focus your appointment and prioritize what needs to be discussed first.  It’s common in a busy doctor’s office, for example, to become flustered when seeing the doctor, especially if you are being rushed because they are running behind.
  • If you have more than a question or two, ask for a longer appointment when you make your original booking. If the office won’t accommodate this, make two separate appointments, starting with your most urgent concerns.
  • After asking your question(s), take notes or have a support person take notes, when medical information is being conveyed. It’s difficult to retain detailed information without writing it down.  Re-reading the information at a later date when you’re not rushed or stressed can more useful. Taking notes during your counselling or therapy session can also be particularly beneficial. This strategy can help you remember salient points, or homework, during your between-session time.  When you write something down, it becomes more real and you may take it more seriously.
  • If the answer you receive does not properly address your original question, ask where else you may be able to find the information that you need. This may include a discussion with another professional or a recommended book, for example.

If You Don’t Agree With the Advice You Receive

  • Share your concerns with your health professional. Seek out professionals that you can dialogue with and who will listen to you.
  • You have a right to ask for a second opinion. Ask your professional to refer you to someone else or find someone who will.
  • Be cautious self-diagnosing with Google. It can be a vortex that increases anxiety and increases confusion, not to mention the fact that laypeople are not trained to make medical diagnoses.

Consistency and Continuity of Care is Important

  • Find a health or healing professional that you like and stick with them. It can be tempting to see whoever is available at your preferred time of day, at the drop of a hat.  This often means that you end up seeing a series of doctors, commonly at settings such as walk-in clinics.  The downside of this is no one professional becomes deeply familiar with your concerns or gets to know you well as a person.  Different providers may also suggest conflicting courses of action, which can get confusing, and in some cases, dangerous.
  • Whenever possible, keep your appointments. If you must cancel, be sure to follow-up again and reschedule. Failing to show up is a professional frustration for your provider and typically involves a missed appointment fee, payable before rebooking.
  • Book follow-up appointments if you have not heard from your provider when you should have, or if you are wondering about the status of an unresolved issue. A busy physician’s office, for example, may not remember to call you back.
  • Ask for referrals. Survey friends or other professionals that you trust.  Also ask why they found that particular provider helpful.

Seek Professionals Who are Openly Accountable for the Care They are Providing And for Whether or Not Your Health Status is Improving

  • Is there a system in place for ensuring that you are receiving the care that you are looking for? Do you feel that the issues that you are seeking care for are being addressed to your satisfaction?  Examples could include: questionnaires, your health professional “checking in” with you, listening and acting on your concerns, etc.
  • In my counselling and therapy practice, I am passionate about accountability. Together, we will formally track your perception of your personal wellbeing and situation every session to ensure that movement is being made.  I will also monitor, at each session, your satisfaction with the session and me as a therapist.  Your responses shape my approach and interventions with you.