Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Protecting your health involves speaking up

Communicating effectively with your doctor could make all the difference.

Each day brings with it news about how people can protect their health - whether it's drinking more coffee (or less, depending on the survey), consuming less salt, getting more exercise, getting preventative screenings for certain diseases, etc. But a couple recent health-related articles reminded me that sometimes, the best tools for protecting one's health can be your own intuition and your own voice. Patients sometimes believe that so long as you tell a doctor what their major symptoms are, the rest will sort itself out. That's not necessarily true.

In the New York Times, one writer reports on a recent New England Journal of Medicine piece in which a doctor argues that "doctors, researchers, drug makers and regulators should pay more attention to patients’ firsthand reports of their symptoms while they take medicines, because their information could help to guide treatment and research, and uncover safety problems." The story goes on to detail how clinical phases of trials for new drugs - and sometimes even doctors and nurses themselves - don't give enough weight to patients' symptoms, concerns, complaints, etc. Sometimes this happens because patients don't speak up enough, or perhaps lie altogether out of shame or embarrassment over what's really going on with their bodies. But just as often it's likely because doctors get caught up and don't take the time to really listen, or delve into how a patient's symptoms are really affecting him or her.

The article nicely complemented another piece in the Los Angeles Times urging both doctors and patients to make an effort to communicate more effectively. It explained how certain circumstances likebeing upset at being made to wait, short appointments, or feeling like they're not getting enough attention on the patients' side; and having to deal with strong or unruly personalities, or patients who unnecessarily take up too much time by going off on tangents or focusing on details that don't matter on the doctors' sides, can hamper communication between the parties. Among the advice doled out to both sides, the author offered: "Physicians need to be willing to work collaboratively with patients, but patients need to carry out their end of the bargain. It's up to patients to follow through with the advice they're given. No one can take their medications for them or make the lifestyle changes necessary for good health in their stead."

It's just another good reminder that when it comes to your own health, you are responsible for voicing your pains, concerns and symptoms clearly, respectfully and reasonably.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

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