It’s all over the news right now: Michigan oncologist Dr. Farid Fata, who gave unnecessary cancer treatments to 533 patients as a moneymaking scheme, will be sentenced tomorrow. Dr. Fata’s patients were injured, disfigured, disabled, even killed by his brutal and violent behavior, and prosecutors are asking for 175 years behind bars.
Dr. Fata is, of course, an exception. The vast majority — let me say that again — the VAST majority of doctors are good people who care deeply about their mission to relieve suffering, and work hard to give patients the best possible care.
Here’s the problem: even the very best doctors work within an imperfect system.
Even when our doctors truly want to help us, the medical system can leave us, as patients, feeling confused, unheard, and powerless. Too often, we feel like victims.
What if you could walk out of your doctor’s office feeling supported, informed, and in control?
You can’t singlehandedly reinvent the entire health care system before your next medical appointment. But by using the six steps below, you can make your next experience the best it can be.
6 Ways Not to Feel Like a Victim When You See Your Doctor
1. Get centered.
Before your appointment, take a moment to consciously center yourself. Take a few deep, calming breaths. Think of a time you felt confident and strong, stand tall, and picture yourself feeling strong and secure during the appointment you’re about to have. Before, and even during, your appointment, you can repeat this simple exercise as often as you like.
2. Choose the right doctor.
Use both your intellect and your instinct. What is this doctor’s reputation? Does she care about getting the little things right, or does she let the details slide? Does she speak respectfully to you? Does she listen? Does she answer your questions? If you don’t have confidence in your doctor’s judgment, or you don’t like the way your doctor treats you, move on and find somebody else.
3. Write down your questions in advance.
When you’re sitting on the edge of the exam table, wearing nothing but a paper gown and feeling terrified that something might be wrong with you, is your mind working at your intelligent, logical best? Of course not! When you’re in the patient role, it’s nearly impossible to think clearly and remember the questions you want to ask. Write down your questions in advance. Over the days or weeks before your appointment, keep a notebook handy or make a list in your phone, so you can add a question whenever you think of it. Then bring it to the exam table with you — don’t leave it across the room in your pocket or bag.
4. Bring a friend.
Even better than bringing your list of questions: bring your list of questions and a friend. If you have a friend who works in health care, that’s great. If not, bring someone who is confident, calm, supportive, and not afraid to speak up. I’ve attended medical visits countless times with friends and family members, and it makes a huge difference. Here’s what you want to ask your friend to do: Ask questions (lots). Take notes (try to catch everything). Ask the doctor to explain things again, or in more detail, if there’s anything you don’t seem to understand. Most importantly, ask your friend to show you love and support.
5. Don’t rush into treatment; get information first.
True emergencies are rare. Nearly always, you’ll have plenty of time to gather information before you decide what treatment to choose, or whether to choose any treatment at all. Ask to see your lab results and radiology images, and get help understanding them. Get a second opinion. Ask about alternatives, including the alternative of doing nothing or delaying a procedure. And be sure to get the name — and the correct spelling — of any body part, medical condition, drug, test, or procedure being discussed, so you can research it on your own.
6. After your visit, call the office if you have questions.
After you leave the office, new questions might come up (or you’ll remember one that, in spite of your pre-written question list, you forgot to ask). You don’t need to wait for your next appointment — just call and ask. In many offices, the receptionist will connect you with a nurse, who will either answer your question on the spot, or talk with the doctor and get back to you. Many patients are hesitant to “bother” the staff with questions by phone, but the job of doctors and their staff is to give you the information you need.
Please share this post with others who can benefit from these tips. I wish I could have personally delivered this information to every single one of Dr. Fata’s patients before they became his victims. Even if your doctor is highly skilled as a practitioner and the soul of kindness as a human being, these tips will help you make the most of your medical visits. Responsibility for your health, and for your health care, rests with you!