Getting the Most From Your Doctor

Non-compliant patients have become something of an epidemic in America these days, and the medical community is devoting tons of resources to stem the tide. Are you a non-compliant patient? Ask yourself a few questions:

• Do you forget to take prescribed medications when you’re supposed to?

• Do you sometimes misunderstand the directions and not bother to have them explained to you?

• Do you find the required lifestyle changes for some treatments too difficult to maintain?

• Do you routinely ignore medical advice from your physician?

Being in non-compliance with your doctor’s treatment plans can cost you your life. Each year as many as 125,000 people with treatable medical problems lose their lives because in one fashion or another they were non-compliant.

Patients do not deserve all the blame. It is not uncommon for many health care professionals to rush through treatment explanations and fail to be clear on side effects or how the treatment may affect one’s lifestyle, leaving the patient confused and uncertain.

The best of all possible scenarios has the patient and the health care professional working as a partnership on one’s treatment and healing. To do this, you need to take your share of the responsibility by understanding all aspects of the treatment prescribed to you and asking questions about the aspects you do not understand. The end of this piece offers some practical tips in this regard.

Maximize Your Health Care: Statistics

These statistics, sourced from the US Food and Drug Administration and the National Council on Patient Information and Education, reveal some terrible habits. Spot which ones you share and do something about them.

• As many as one in five patients do not fill their prescriptions

• One in ten adolescent pregnancies is the consequence of not having complied with birth control pills or other medications

• Three of every five patients have trouble identify their own medications.

• As many as half of all patients compromise their medication treatments by ignoring the instructions.

• About one in five patients admitted to nursing homes arrive there from giving themselves medicine.

• As many as one in five people take other people’s medications.

• Every year, hospital admissions total as much as $8.5 billion for non-compliant patients.

Reasons for non-compliance

Be honest with yourself and see how many of these common reasons for non-compliance sound familiar:

• Although treatment isn’t over, your symptoms have disappeared or you feel better This happens quite often when people take antibiotics. Although the healing process is not over, it feels over. But just because you feel better doesn’t mean you are. Your doctor didn’t prescribe a certain length of treatment for no reason.

• The treatment makes you feel worse than the illness.

Medications can sometimes bring about uncomfortable side effects. And when treatment is for something like high blood pressure, the patient may begin to feel poorly from the medication, making it difficult to see the benefits of the treatment if it is making them feel worse.

• "It won’t happen to me." Despite potential health problems like heart attack or stroke, patients believe it can’t happen to them … until it actually does.

• Lifestyle changes are difficult and inconvenient Exercising, or quitting smoking (get quit smoking support here), altering your diet … these changes are hard, but if your health or life relies on doing it, shouldn’t you give it all you’ve got?

• You identify the treatment with the sickness. The sense of having to rely upon medication rubs some people the wrong way, so they stop taking it, having seen the treatment as the enemy, especially when the drugs have side effects.

• You make adjustments to your medication without talking to your doctor. Often people with chronic illnesses want to try and take control of their treatment by changing their dosage. This is especially dangerous when patients are taking addictive medications such as opiate painkillers.

• Treatment costs too much. Therapy sessions, prescription drugs, medical devices—they can add up.

• Outside demands take priority over your treatment. Busy schedules, stressful lives, demands of others—these issues and more make it hard for some to maintain a treatment plan.

Maximize Your Health Care: Tips

The following tips should help you keep lines of communication between you and your doctor open thereby maximizing your medical treatment.

• Tape record or write down what your doctor says.

• Be fully certain you understand how to take your medication. Don’t hesitate to call your doctor or pharmacist with any additional questions.

• Find out what to do if you miss a dose. Sometimes we forget, sometimes things get in the way. Find out what to do if you miss a dose, or a rehab class of a therapy session.

• Tell your doctor about any past experiences with his prescribed treatments, especially if they didn’t work before of if you’re being treated for something else.

• Learn about the side effects you might experience with this treatment, what’s normal and what isn’t and what you should tell your doctor about.

• Request information about support groups that deal with the same illness as you. Support groups fill a lot of needs; should your therapy change, or your lifestyle, they can help you cope.

• Ask questions, and lots of them. Sometimes doctors speak in medical terminology and we have trouble following. If he or she acts impatient, tell them it’s important for you to understand your treatment. If they continue to seem impatient, consider finding another doctor.

• If you cannot afford your prescribed medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether the drug maker offers any aide programs. It’s not common, but they exist. Physicians can obtain a guide from the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (202-835-3400) that can help in these matters.


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