Becoming a Better Patient

Whether it’s for an annual check-up or a surgical procedure, most of us have met with a healthcare practitioner at some point. Admittedly, there have likely been instances when these visits left us with a less than satisfactory experience, perhaps even some regrets. Exiting the examination room, we may feel a sense of confusion and disappointment. However, there are several common mistakes made by both patients and practitioners during medical exams that can be easily addressed. Some of the main problems we, as patients, have include: limited ability to comprehend health-related matters, the use of medical jargon, or the sensation of being rushed during appointments.  

One prevalent issue keeping Black patients from becoming better patients is not actively participating in our own healthcare journey. There are several reasons why we don’t play an active role in our healthcare journey or even an active participant during our checkups.

For the sake of our personal health, it’s essential to recognize and rectify a few common mistakes so that we all can become better patients.

1.  Lack of preparation. Many people do not plan. It’s important to make a list of questions or concerns and bring them with you to the appointment. Most often, people tend to not visit their healthcare practitioner until last minute or something is wrong. As such, because patients feel so rushed, they forget to share relevant medical history, current medications, a list of allergies, etc.

2.  Withholding information. Within the Black community, there is stigma revolving around health conditions. Unfortunately, we are taught to feel shame in silence instead of seeking help with professionals. Not providing accurate or complete information about symptoms, lifestyle, or medical history can be detrimental. Keeping silent about potentially embarrassing or sensitive issues that are relevant to your visit should be shared.

If you don’t feel comfortable discussing sensitive issues, plan your visit alone or tell your family or friends to remain in the waiting area. If you still don’t feel comfortable, write down the sensitive information and hand it directly to the doctor. Let them start the conversation if they deem it necessary.

3. Self-diagnosis and treatment. With the use of technology and many medical websites, it’s quite easy and normal to jump to conclusions about symptoms or conditions. Don’t take advice from a random online diagnosis tool.Self-medicating without consulting your healthcare practitioner may lead to horrible drug-drug side effects and even addiction.

4. Non-adherence to prescribed treatments. Your healthcare practitioner gives you strict advice to adhere to. If you do not fully understand the advice for your treatments, ask questions. Not following the recommendations, such as taking medications as directed, attending follow-up appointments, or making necessary lifestyle changes could worsen your condition.  Remember to report all side effects or concerns you may be having. Use a symptom tracker to remember your symptoms and how you feel. Document your symptoms and bring it to the attention of your healthcare practitioner at the next appointment.

5. Not seeking a second opinion. Remember, your healthcare practitioner is human and humans have their own opinions. And, at times, humans make mistakes—doctors and patients, alike. If you feel uncomfortable with the diagnosis, medical treatment plan, or even how the healthcare practitioner may speak with you, seek a second opinion. Sometimes patients may not fully accept a diagnosis or treatment plan unless verified by a second opinion. But again, the same rules apply—be honest with the doctor during your visit, present all your medical and family history paperwork. Above all, understand that you have options and you should seek them if your gut tells you to do so

Becoming a better patient is a transformative journey. It’s a moment when we realize that we have more control over our healthcare journey. To boot, we also begin to develop a better doctor-patient relationship. We begin to understand our health conditions because we learn to ask questions. It’s important to actively participate in our healthcare journey with open, honest, and informed decisions with our healthcare provider to ensure we receive the best possible care. By taking responsibility of our health, we end up empowering ourselves to no longer sit in the backseat of this journey, but rather begin to navigate from the front seat, behind the steering wheel.

About the author

Stephen Earley Jordan II

Stephen Earley Jordan is the lead writer, editor and founder of Elevate Black Health. He has 25+ years in the public health and pharmaceutical marketing industry. He has worked on various public health campaigns for various organizations, including New York City Department of Health. Campaigns include: smoking cessation, healthy children, trans fat, HIV/AIDS, Flu Vaccines, Safe homes, and more. Jordan has worked with multicultural divisions to ensure all literature was translated into six additional languages for the specific targeted demographics. Jordan has also spent time in the pharmaceutical marketing industry, and worked on various marketing campaigns for oncology, rheumatoid arthritis, probiotics, medical devices, facial fillers, thyroid- and dry-eye diseases, and numerous rare diseases. He has assisted in the production of print and digital pieces alike.

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