What we don’t know can hurt us. This is especially true when it comes to our health. The less we understand about our health – the medicines we take, the conditions we might have, the care we receive – the more likely we are to make decisions that aren’t in our best interest, ones that might even be incredibly harmful. A lack of awareness of our own medical conditions can also put us in the position of being susceptible to mistakes made by medical professionals.
For those of us who require a good deal of medical care and have more interactions with our health care providers, the need to be better informed patients is particularly great. By becoming smarter patients, we can maximize the value of the time we spend with doctors, be less likely to take medications that cause us harm and become less susceptible to medical error. While we are, in many ways, dependent on the expertise of medical professionals when it comes to certain aspects of our health care, knowing a little bit more about our own health can go a long way.
Here are a few ways to become a smarter patient:
Do your homework about medical conditions you suffer from. This does not mean that you should Google your condition and make assumptions about what illness you might have. But once you have received a diagnosis, do research about your medical condition. Find out how your lifestyle might impact that condition. Learn some of the terminology used by medical professionals. These can help you interact with your doctors in a more knowledgeable manner and catch potential mistakes that might be made by your providers.
Know the risks and interactions of medications you take. There is a long list of possible interactions that can occur with virtually every type of medicine we take. Know the interactions that are the most common and harmful. For example, did you know that eating large amounts of chocolate can be dangerous if you take monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors, such as Nardil or Parnate, or that a large intake of leafy green vegetables can reduce the effect of Coumadin?
Avoid armchair experts. There is a flood of information that we have to wade through whenever we take to the Internet to get answers to questions about our health. Avoid low-quality sources of information, such as Internet forums, and learn to be discerning about the sources you trust.
Pay attention to your records and bills. Medical bills are typically itemized in ways that most of us never pay close attention to. But by comparing bills to the actual services you receive, you might be able to catch harmful practices of overbilling. You might also notice that you have been billed for tests or treatments that do not match your condition. Your medical records can also provide great insight into the care your doctors and nurses are providing. Use them as a starting point in understanding your health care.
Research your health care providers. Just like any other service in the United States, there are rankings given to our doctors and hospitals. Before you go to a hospital or talk to a doctor, find out whether they have received poor ratings from credible institutions or if their patients are unhappy with the care they provide.
It is in our best interests to be more informed consumers, particularly in regard to the medical care we receive. You want to avoid thinking that you know more about medicine than professionals, but it’s best to be aware that our health care system, just like any other, does have some flaws and that critical mistakes can be made. However, we can do ourselves a big favor by knowing more about our own health and our medical providers.
Cirignani Heller & Harman, LLP is an Illinois law firm that represents clients who have been harmed due to medical malpractice.