Coronavirus has changed the way many of us think about healthcare delivery. Whether it is visiting our GPs or having elective procedures done at the hospital, a good many of us think twice before making any decisions. This could be good or bad depending on how you look at it. Hopefully, the one good thing that has come out of it all is an understanding that you are your own best health advocate.
Western medicine has had a patient problem for generations. What is that problem? It is that patients blindly accept what healthcare providers tell them without question. It often takes a serious illness or injury, coupled with less-than-stellar results, before people start questioning how much their healthcare providers really know.
This is not to say that we should have an inherent mistrust of doctors, nurses, etc. What it does suggest is that we remember they are human. They don’t know everything; they do make mistakes. And most importantly, you know your health better than anyone else.
The Healthcare Guessing Game
How often you see your GP only to have them say something like, “let’s try this and see how it goes.” Unfortunately, that’s the way Western medicine works. Whether or not it is intentionally designed that way is a matter of debate. The one thing we can say for sure is that the guessing game is not the best way to practice medicine.
In fairness, there are certain types of injuries and illnesses that do not require any guessing. Take a broken bone. X-rays will definitively reveal the problem. Moreover, the treatment for broken bones is pretty straightforward and proven. Set the bone, immobilize it, and let nature run its course.
The opposite end of the spectrum is those conditions that are not so easily understood. Fibromyalgia is a good example. For the longest time, fibromyalgia was believed to be a syndrome rather than an actual illness. Medical science treated it by treating its symptoms with drugs.
A doctor might recommend one drug to help manage chronic pain. Another was prescribed to improve sleep. A third was thrown into the mix to offset the side effects of the first two. Doctors often wrote multiple prescriptions just to see how things would go.
Today, medical science knows a lot more about fibromyalgia. However, treatments are not static. Doctors and patients have to work together, trying multiple treatments until they find something that provides relief. The point of all this is to say that if doctors don’t know for sure what to do, it’s up to patients to speak up and let their voices be heard.
Alternative Medicine Options
It is especially important that patients speak up in light of so many alternative treatments now emerging. Take medical cannabis, for example. It is an alternative to long-term pain medication. Someone suffering from chronic arthritis pain may do far better with medical cannabis than an opioid or analgesic prescription.
Another alternative form of medicine is known as regenerative medicine. It utilizes things like stem cell and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections to treat musculoskeletal injury and disease. That same patient for whom a long-term opioid is not appropriate might also not do well with medical cannabis. But regenerative medicine could provide significant long-term pain relief.
The challenge with alternative medicine options is that they are often dismissed by the mainstream medical community. Far too many in traditional healthcare will not even think of entertaining something that is not pharmacologically based. Just mention alternative medicine and some doctors act like so many prohibition signs warning you not to do this or that. It is a shame because prescription drugs and medical devices are not the be-all and end-all.
Advocate for Yourself
The whole idea of you being your own best healthcare advocate may sound frightening. However, you can do it. You can advocate for yourself simply by speaking up and letting your doctor know what you’re thinking and feeling. Don’t be shy. Sure, there are some medical professionals who take offense when patients speak up. But most of them want the input.
Doctors and nurses do not know what you are going through if you don’t tell them. They cannot know the extent of your symptoms without an explanation. And if they have never experienced the particular injury or illness you are suffering from, they have to rely even more heavily on your input.
Perhaps you’re not interested in going right from pain medication to knee replacement surgery. You think you might want to try regenerative medicine first. That is your right. You do not have to accept healthcare services you don’t want. So speak up. If your doctor is unwilling to have a conversation about alternatives, look for another doctor.
Be Honest about Treatments
Another aspect of advocating for yourself is being honest about your treatments. First and foremost, be honest about whether or not you have followed your doctor’s advice to the letter. If you haven’t, there’s no way to honestly say that the treatment didn’t work. If you have followed instructions to the letter, be honest about the results.
Your doctor needs to know what works and what doesn’t. If a certain type of treatment offered relief from your symptoms, let that be known. Your doctor can work with that to further develop your treatment plan. If something hasn’t worked, don’t just clam up and forget about it. Your doctor needs to know it didn’t work so that they can begin investigating another avenue.
Do not be shy about other treatments you would like to consider. More than one doctor has not kept up to date with all the latest treatments simply due to the sheer volume of it all. You might be the patient who introduces your doctor to a successful treatment they have never heard of before.
You Know You
Your doctor knows about human biology and physiology. They also know about prescription drugs and medical devices. They may even know a little bit about you and your history. But they do not know you as you know you.
When it comes to healthcare services, you are your own best advocate. Don’t be silent. Actively participate in your healthcare by speaking up. Insist on being able to have intelligent conversations with whoever treats you. Let it be known what works and what doesn’t and make it clear when you want to try alternative treatments.
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