By agebuzz Contributing Editor Julie Buyon
Many of us find that interacting with our current healthcare system can be a cold, impersonal, and fractured experience. While there are legions of advocates trying to change that, one of the most powerful things you can do to improve the quality of your experience is to apply the golden rule: treat everyone you encounter the way you would like to be treated i.e., with kindness, respect, empathy, and politeness. Treat everyone you encounter as a person, rather than just a piece on the chessboard of the healthcare system. I am more than the cancer patient in Exam 2, just as Kathy is more than my doctor’s nurse. Everyone appreciates being treated like a friend, rather than merely a service provider. If you don’t want to be seen as merely a patient, then treat everyone as a person.
Do you know the names of the staff at your doctor’s practice? If not, make a point of learning them – and write the names down in your health notebook! That way, the next time you call you can begin with “Hi Susan, how are you?” rather than “Hello. I need…..” Which greeting do you think will elicit a better tone for the ensuing conversation? If you want to be regarded as more than your medical record, start conversations, and form relationships with these vital members of your health care team! Learn about what they do and understand how they fit into your overall care.
When I need to be squeezed in for an appointment with my internist, I call Kathy, my doctor’s nurse. Kathy assesses the urgency of my concern, always provides great advice and finds a slot for my doctor to see me. My oncologist’s assistant Iris has seen me through 3 cancer diagnoses and helped me get what I needed more times than I can count. Two of the most frightening conversations I have ever had began with “Iris, I think I might have a problem again” and ended with Iris’s calm reassurance that she would have my doctor contact me as soon as possible – and that they would take care of me. Sandra in Billing guided me through a maze of bills and insurance claims with grace, patience, and humor. I always plan extra time at the dentist to catch up with Peggy, Sharon, and Nora, the dental assistants on staff.
By connecting with everyone involved in your care at a personal and individual level, a powerhouse patient can significantly improve his or her encounters in an often hurried and impersonal health care environment. Recognize that every staff member plays a role in your health care team and therefore has an impact on your health and well-being. You are coming to them for help – whether to be squeezed in for an appointment, get a medical question answered by a clinician, have medical records transferred or a prescription called into the pharmacy – and it is human nature to be more helpful to those we know and treat us well. Treat these folks like the important people they are in your life! Be respectful of their time and their expertise, and be understanding about what they can and cannot help you with.
And don’t forget to voice your appreciation! Say “Thank you”. Say “You’ve really helped me feel better” or “It’s fantastic how you explained everything so clearly”. Tell them how well they are doing their job and that you appreciate their efforts on your behalf. Treat them as the valuable members of your team that they are, and you’ll soon find them cheering you on!
Julie Buyon is a palliative care patient advocate. She has professional and personal expertise in assisting people with complex illnesses navigate the health care environment. Julie’s role is to help patients feel empowered, and her agebuzz posts are intended to make sure agebuzz readers have all the tools and info they need to advocate for themselves and their loved ones. Julie would love agebuzz readers to email her at email@example.com with any questions or problems encountered with the health care system, and she will do all she can to address those issues in upcoming blog posts. She also welcomes feedback regarding her advice or recommendations. Read all of Julie’s agebuzz posts here and get in touch with Julie now at firstname.lastname@example.org.