Guidelines for Being a Good Patient

Alan Desmond
August 28, 2011

Is it your job to be a good patient?  I will make the assumption that when you are ill, you would prefer a good doctor, as opposed to the other kind. But, as a health care practitioner (HCP), let me tell you, “It takes two.” You can find the best doctor in the world, but if you are not a good patient, he/she will not be able to do their best for you.

Let’s start with some basics:

Show up.  When you don’t show up, you waste the HCP’s time. Most often, cancellations are not a problem, but if you cancel at the last minute, or don’t show up, many offices will refuse to reschedule you.  Some offices consider “No-Shows” to be patients that are likely to be non-compliant and difficult down the road, so they would rather just have you go elsewhere.

Show up on time.
These days, most HCP’s are challenged to keep up with the demand for health care services, so their schedules are likely full to the brim.  If you show up late, you make every patient for the rest of the day increase their waiting time.  Those other patients get frustrated and sometimes angry.  Do they call you and express their anger to you for being late? No, they take it out on the HCP and staff.  How happy is that staff going to be to see you next time?

Bring a current typed list of your medications, including who prescribed them, and the condition for which you are taking them.  Some HCP’s also want you to bring the actual
medications, but it saves time for you to have a prepared list.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You will be a better patient if you understand why and what is being done. Do some online research before your appointment so you can have your questions ready. Stay away from chat rooms and forums. Most of the information shared by other people with
similar symptoms is wrong.  Stick to websites of reputable institutions such as the Mayo Clinics, or Johns Hopkins Medical Center.

Don’t try and self-diagnose. Simply describe your symptoms without being tempted to say, “I think this is what’s wrong.”  If you trust your HCP, they will use their training to determine the problem.  If you don’t trust them, find a new HCP. Ignore what you neighbor tells you.

Listen to the question your HCP is asking, and restrict your response to specifically answering the question asked.  If he/ she asks  “When did you first notice this?”  Don’t answer, “A long time ago” or “as long as I can remember.”  Be specific, and answer in a period of time such as 3 days, or 2 weeks, or 6 months.

If there is anyone else that you want to hear the HCP’s opinion, bring them with you, or have them on speaker phone. I can’t tell you how many times, after spending several minutes explaining test findings, the patient will ask if they can have their family come in and repeat to the family what I just told him.

Don’t hesitate to drop a short “thank you” card, or send an email message to acknowledge kind, courteous care. It means a lot more than you think.

Understand that your HCP is dealing with economic pressures from every side (a topic for another day). Reimbursement for many medical procedures is dropping (some by more than half) while expenses are soaring.  Medicare is running out of money and slashing payments, and many private insurance companies pay based on a percentage of Medicare.  HCP’s are trying to figure out how to provide quality, courteous service when most services are being paid at less than the cost to deliver them.

Despite all this, most HCP’s are compassionate, qualified professionals who will do their best for you. It just doesn’t hurt if you make a little effort to make it easier for them.

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