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In 2022, Here’s How Experts Say You Should Approach Your Healthcare Visits

As Americans pay more for healthcare each year—and expect more for their money—experts advise consumers to carefully review medical bills and study their health insurance policies. They also urge people to actively engage in every healthcare encounter.

Here’s how patient advocates and experts suggest you get the most from your healthcare in 2022.

1.    Schedule wisely

Schedule strategically and try to get time slots early in the day, suggests Danielle Ripley-Burgess, a Kansas City-based advocate and chief storyteller at Fight Colorectal Cancer.

“The offices typically aren’t running so behind when you’re the first, second, or third appointment,” Ripley-Burgess said. “The encounters stay efficient, and your entire day isn’t thrown off because the doctor’s office was running behind.”

2.    “Preparation, Preparation, Preparation!”

To make the most of every visit, experts encourage preparation.

“Create a list of concerns and questions you want addressed during the encounter and take notes during the appointment,” said Madeline Shonka, CEO of Wichita, Kansas-based Co-Immunity Foundation.

Bring data, such as about when you get symptoms and what might trigger them, suggests Daivat Dholakia, vice president of Essenvia, a software company for the medical device industry.

“If you find yourself in a situation where your doctor is dismissing your concerns, the easiest fix is to have a symptom journal prepared,” Dholakia said. “This is especially helpful for chronic or hard-to-diagnose symptoms.”

Dr. Monty Ghosh, a Canadian internist and assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Alberta, suggests taking preparation a step further: Don’t just bring a list of concerns; prioritize them.

“Often patients come with a huge list of issues they are having and while these issues are important, it can often bog down the clinician and take away from the main issue at hand,” Ghosh said.

If you run out of time to address the full list of concerns, let your healthcare provider know and schedule a follow-up visit.

Similar guidance holds for telemedicine, according to Dr. Rajinder Chahal, a California-based endocrinologist and cofounder of WhiteCoatRemote.com, a job board for remote healthcare workers.

Chahal says you should treat telehealth appointments the same as in-person visits, keeping your health information and medication lists nearby during the visit. Sign on early from a quiet, private place with a stable internet connection.

3.    Dig deeper

“The best way to advocate for yourself or a loved one is to ask questions,” said Janet Gould, a Kansas City-based nurse and case manager. “Be prepared to ask the ‘why’ behind a recommendation to dig a little deeper. It may help you better understand the plan.”

Felicia Pryor, a doctor of pharmacy, also suggests getting beyond surface-level information.

“Just because your labs look ‘normal,’ your vitals look ‘normal,’ your weight looks ‘normal,’ or if this pill should make you feel ‘normal,’ if you don’t feel ‘normal,’ keep digging,” Pryor said.

The goal, she says, should be to find root causes so you can begin to feel better than normal.

Mary Shomon, author and patient advocate, suggests asking for full copies of your lab reports and reviewing them carefully yourself to spot anything abnormal. In as many as 26% of cases, patients aren’t told about abnormal results.

“You not only have the right to your lab reports, but as an empowered patient, you need to review them carefully for errors,” Shomon said. “It could save your life!”

4.    Two pairs of ears are better than one

Experts recommend bringing someone with you to appointments.

“Often, it’s hard to remember everything discussed, especially if it’s a serious medical issue,” Ghosh said. “Having a second set of ears can be helpful in remembering key things discussed.”

Karen Curtiss, board-certified patient advocate and founder of The Care Partner Project, says that when you feel unwell or anxious, another person can help you remember what you want to address and help with follow-up tasks such as scheduling tests or picking up prescriptions.

“Your ‘someone’ doesn’t have to be a professional advocate, but rather a friend or family member who is happy to take notes for you,” Curtiss said. “A partner can help track little details that can make a big difference in care and peace of mind.”

5.    Healthy skepticism can be healthy

Second opinions can feel like second guessing your doctor, but Chelsey Gomez says you shouldn’t worry about that. The Florida-based cancer survivor and founder of an online cancer community encourages people to seek a second opinion if something doesn’t sound right.

“It’s okay to seek a second opinion. You should not feel bad about doing so,” Gomez said. “Your doctors should feel comfortable with it and if they’re not…it’s a really good thing you did!”

Even before getting a second opinion, Ron Shinkman, a Los Angeles-based certified patient advocate, says you should think critically about the information you get from your provider.

“For decades, the relationship between provider and patient has been primarily paternal,” he said. “The doctor makes a recommendation, and the patient is to follow it to the letter.”

But as medical groups and hospitals become more corporate, Shinkman says, patients  must also reorient themselves to more businesslike relationships with providers.

“Moderately skeptical questioning is a better fit for this relationship, with providers being regularly reminded that cost is a factor for patients,” Shinkman said.

Barbara Lewis also thinks patients should take more active roles in their care. Lewis founded Joan’s Family Bill of Rights to help people protect themselves from diagnostic error after her sister, Joan, died in intensive care in 2012.

“Gone are the days when the clinician talks, and the patient only listens,” Lewis said. “Now patients need to research and educate themselves, prepare questions and speak up, and ask the clinician to partner with them in their care.”

Healthcare, Lewis says, is a team sport. You have to be a central player on that team.

6.    Relationships matter

Don’t let healthy skepticism get in the way of building authentic relationships with healthcare providers, experts say.

“Form an actual friendly relationship with your care provider,” said Ashley Johnson, founder of Loyal Hands, a group of death doulas who support people at the end of life. “The more the care provider realizes that you are a person and not just another patient, the care team becomes more hospitable.”

Dr. Ben Aiken, a direct primary care provider in Asheville, North Carolina and vice president of medical affairs for Decent, encourages people to establish a strong relationship with your primary care provider. These relationships serve as the foundation of staying healthy and navigating the healthcare system if you get sick, Aiken says.

7.    Be your own project manager

“You are the project manager of your own health journey,” Shomon said. “Doctors and providers are there as resources, but in today’s medical world, it’s your job to manage your team.”

Shomon suggests finding the right project team members, making sure they communicate and follow through with you and each other, and keeping them informed.

“Your clinician cannot read your mind,” said Michigan-based Jill Dehlin, a nurse and National Headache Foundation board member. “If you have a sensitive question, just ask. Believe me, they’ve heard all kinds of personal questions and can probably help you, or refer you to someone who can.”

Marianne Sarcich, breast cancer survivor and advocate, says it’s important to have confidence in what you know about you and to let that help you raise your voice on your own behalf without wavering.

“Your voice is one of your strongest tools when it comes to your healthcare,” Sarcich said. “Your role on your healthcare team is an important one. Because remember this: while doctors are experts on medicine, you are an expert on you.”

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