For best health care, become an empowered patient

By Kristy Bleizeffer Jan 30, 2015

In the doctor-patient relationship, it’s your doctor’s job to steer the ship toward good health. But you play a role, too. Think of yourself as the first mate, working with your doctor as an empowered member of the crew. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) finds that empowered patients – those who understand their health and actively participate in health decisions – get the best treatments and the best results.

In this conversation, Dr. Ketura Talbot, a family practice physician at Mesa Primary Care, explains how quality health care begins with a close, personal relationship with your doctor.

What does it mean to be an ‘empowered patient?’
To me, being an empowered patient means giving people control over their medicine. It’s somebody who does the research and looks into what is going on with their own health. They know what medications they are on. They know, as much as they can, what they can do about their health.

There has been a shift in the patient-doctor relationship. It used to often be that the doctor told you what to do. Now, we’re trying to get more of a team effort where the patient is informed, knows what’s going on, and gets to help make the decisions about their health.

Before becoming a doctor, you were a patient yourself. What did this teach you about the patient-doctor relationship?
One of the reasons I went into medicine was I didn’t understand what was going on. I hated going to the doctor’s office, walking out with a prescription and not knowing what I had or what I was using it for. I knew that I wanted to change how I approached my patients. I make every effort to make sure I am explaining what is going on with my patients’ health, why we were doing what we were doing, and what options they have for taking care of themselves.

A visit to the doctor’s office, especially for new patients, can be intimidating. Do you see this as an obstacle for becoming an empowered patient?
It is very intimidating. My advice is to find someone you can be comfortable with, somebody you trust and to whom you can open up. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information. Doctors and our nurses have resources for your health concerns, and sometimes we forget what it’s like to be on the patient side. So remind us when something doesn’t make sense and that you need it clarified.

What should patients bring to their doctor’s appointments?
If you’re coming with a particular health concern, sit down ahead of time and jot down symptoms, such as the location and duration of discomfort. Write down any questions you have so you don’t forget to ask them during the appointment. You can also bring your notebook to take notes during the visit.

It’s also important that patients keep an updated medication list and carry it with them at all times.

What information should be on a patient’s medication list?
Your list should include the dosage you take, how often and when of every medication, supplement or vitamin you take. (For help, use this printable pdf.) At Mesa, we try to give you a list of your medications at the end of every visit and you should get one any time you get the hospital.

You should update this list whenever something changes, and carry the updated list in your purse or wallet. If you get in an accident, or if you have trouble, it gives whoever is taking care of you an idea of what you need.

What should an empowered patient do before leaving his doctor’s office?
Always ask that last question. If you don’t understand something, ask again. I can explain it in five different ways, but I need to know that you didn’t get it. We can also give you printed materials and suggest other resources, such as websites, that you can use at home. A lot of times, these resources are very good about clarifying health questions and putting the answers into normal English terms.

I know the doctor’s office can be a scary place, particularly when we are giving diagnoses. If you do feel intimidated or confused, let us know. We will try to change how we do things and make it more comfortable for you.

Ketura Talbot M.D.

Dr. Talbot grew up in the Big Horn Basin and graduated high school in Worland. She attended the University of Wyoming and went to medical school as part of the University of Washington’s WWAMI program. She is accepting new patients at Mesa Primary Care. Call (307) 234-6765 for an appointment.

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