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Talking To Your Doctor

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When it comes to talking with your doctor, don’t be shy.

Posted October 11, 2010

With 25 years’ experience in health care, as a nurse and now certified physician assistant, Patti Emfinger admits that when she’s in an examination room as a patient, she used to feel a little hesitant about talking with her doctor beyond exchanging pleasantries and basic information.

Now an assistant professor in the College of Health Professions at South University’s Savannah, Ga., campus, Emfinger worked previously in an internal medicine/internist setting. “A lot of my patient interaction has been with people over age 65,” she says. “And they were raised to have a great deal of respect for medical professionals.”

She says that she was troubled then, and still is, that people are reluctant to talk openly when they get into the doctor’s office. “They worry that questioning the physician or the physician assistant suggests a lack of confidence in the health care professional’s competence. And many people, of all ages, are embarrassed to talk about personal medical issues,” she says.

Emfinger acknowledges that some medical practitioners intimidate patients, usually unintentionally. “Some take the approach ’I’m the provider, so what I say goes.’”

But advances in diagnosis and treatment, along with changes in the health care delivery system, are changing the way patients and health care professionals interact one-on-one, according to Emfinger. “In health care today, there’s an expectation that patients will be involved in making decisions about their own health care. With so many options available now, we appreciate that our patients want to know the reasons behind what we’re recommending and prescribing.”

For Emfinger, the best outcomes are achieved when patients and health care professionals work together. “Physicians have the responsibility to evaluate and diagnose disease and to make recommendations based on their best clinical knowledge and experience. At the same time, they need to create an environment where patients feel respected.”

So what should patients do? “First of all, you absolutely have to tell the doctor or physician assistant all your concerns. Even if you feel embarrassed to talk about certain parts of your body, go ahead and talk. After all, we’ve seen and heard it all—and we are people, too.”

She also says that we have to ask questions in order to make informed decisions. “If you’re diagnosed with a disease or condition, avoid your own unguided Internet search for answers. Instead, ask your physician or physician assistant for a reliable website or for literature or a journal where you can find reliable information. Ask about organizations that offer local support groups and other resources for people suffering from the same or similar diseases.”

What if you have doubts about the diagnosis or treatment? Emfinger advises asking for evidence-based data that support the effectiveness of the recommended treatment. “You want to know that a particular drug, or surgical procedure, or therapy actually helps patients get better,” she says. And second opinions, even changing doctors, are also OK. “If you feel that your doctor isn’t up to date on medical practices, switch to someone else.”

So how does Emfinger deal with her own reluctance in talking to her doctors? “First, I remind myself that this is my life, my health, and I’m in charge of it. Then I remind myself that I know my body better than anyone else. So I talk. I’m open about my concerns. I know that if there’s not good communication, I’m missing out on getting the very best care possible and achieving the health outcome that’s best for me.”

Article source: ARAContent.


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