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How To Empower Yourself In America’s Healthcare System

How To Empower Yourself In America’s Healthcare System

The more the patient learns about his condition and the more proactive he becomes in organizing the details of his treatment, the more control he will have over his situation. The more a doctor knows about the patient the better he will be at making the correct diagnosis. Thus, both the and patient and caregiver will benefit from good communication and proper organization of information. The following steps can be taken to empower the patient, the physician and the health care team.

1. List the names of doctors.

Make a list of the names of your doctors and other healthcare providers. Include their telephone numbers, specialties, and the hospitals they are affiliated with.  It is easy to forget names when you are stressed and a comprehensive list will give your current doctor quick and easy access to your previous records if he needs them. With the advent of devices such as the iPad, iPhone and now the iWatch it is easy to store and carry medical data and emergency contacts with you at all times. If you do not have access to these devices simple note-cards would be sufficient.

2. Always ask for access to electronic data

Ask for access to electronic data such as CT scans, X-rays and lab results.  Many hospitals and laboratories have websites that contain “patient portals” which provide records of your test results, ask for the codes to access these portals and print copies of your reports to take to your doctor.

3. Make a list of medications, allergies and other pertinent information

Make a list of all your medications (along with their generic names),  supplements, allergies and any other information that you would like your health care team to be aware of, and keep it with you.  Take this list to them because it could prevent mistakes like overprescription of drugs, prescription of drugs that might cause drug reactions, or the performance of unnecessary or inappropriate treatment modalities.

4. Ask your physician to explain purpose of medication, side effects etc.

Pharmacists are very good at providing drug information but they do not have your whole medical history like your doctor does. Disscuss your medication with your physician and let him go over issues like side effects, the best time to take  the medication, how to take it, and adverse reactions.

5. Keep track of expiration dates of prescriptions and medications.

It is easy to forget that you need to renew your medication.  It takes time for the doctor to request your prescription from your pharmacy, and it takes time for the pharmacy to fill your prescription.  Always re-order your prescription at least a week before finishing the last one.  Always note the expiration date on your prescription bottle.  It is not advisable to take expired drugs.

6. Ask about discount programs for expensive drugs.

There are government agencies and drug companies which provide discount programs for expensive drugs.  For example AbbVie is a drug company which provides free medications for needy patients on a case by case basis. There are several government agencies that provide help with the cost of drugs depending on your specific needs. The following sites provide information on how to access these resources:

AbbVie Patient Assistance Foundation – Help with prescription drug costs

7. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for a referral for a second opinion.

Most doctors will not be offended if you ask for a referral to another physician for a second opinion.  Two heads are better than one and it will make you more confident if your diagnosis is confirmed by a second person.

Research your  symptoms and become educated about your illness, access and organize your medical data and communicate effectively with your health care providers. You are your own best advocate and the more control you have over your situation the more empowered you will become and the better your outcome should be.


Note: this post is written by CrowdMed medical detective Jean Jahoor.  She has degrees in Biology and Medical Technology from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB). She has worked as a microbiologist for several institutions including the hospitals at UTMB, and Quest Diagnostics in Houston.


Jean Jahoor

Author: Jean Jahoor

Jean Jahoor grew up on the beautiful island of Jamaica where she studied English Literature at the University there. After migrating to the US, she completed degrees in Biology and Medical Technology at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, another beautiful island. She worked as a microbiologist for several institutions including the hospitals at UTMB, and Quest Diagnostics in Houston. She also completed two years of medical school. An ardent supporter of the CrowdMed vision, she derives great satisfaction from participating on this site.