This column appears in the Nevada Appeal Wednesday health pages. It addresses topics related to the health of our community.
We all have heard advice about healthy lifestyle habits and taking steps to keep ourselves healthy. We have been told about eating right, exercising, and taking medications as prescribed. But what happens when we don’t know something about our health, or are worried about symptoms we may be experiencing? There’s another important piece of advice that could have a huge impact on your health: Speak up. When you are afraid to be an advocate for your health, the care you receive may not as good as it could be. This is one case in which what you don’t know can hurt you.
Many people are afraid to bring up concerns they may have to their health care providers, or they may not want to ask questions about instructions or information they don’t understand. For some people, cultural factors make them stay quiet, because they feel like it might seem rude to question their doctor. Others fear that asking questions will make them look stupid, they feel embarrassed, or they worry that it will take up too much of the doctor’s time. When it comes to your health, there are no stupid questions, and your doctor will not judge you, so don’t be afraid to clear up any questions while you have your provider’s attention.
If you aren’t sure of something your doctor tells you, ask for clarification and communicate it back to him or her in your own words to make sure you understand. Also, if you have a disability such as poor hearing that causes you to have difficulty communicating, let your doctor know you aren’t getting the message. If you think of a question later, it is OK to call back and ask to speak to your doctor or nurse again. It may be helpful to bring a notebook to write notes in case you need to look back after you get home.
Be prepared for appointments by making a list of questions and concerns you want to talk to your healthcare provider about before you go to your appointment, so you don’t forget. You may wish to bring a family member or friend for support. At the end of the visit, make sure you ask your doctor any questions you may still have about your diagnosis, treatment, medications or other concerns that were not addressed during your visit. Most important, if you think something is incorrect, say so. Many medical errors could be avoided if patients acted as advocates for their own health.