10 Tips for Being the Good Patient

I’ve been told by my medical team, those who work hard to make sure I live a healthy life with my diabetes, that I am a “good patient.”   They are pleased that I do what I am supposed to:  check my blood sugar, keep my appointments, eat healthy foods, and exercise. They also remark that they wish all their patients took their diabetes management as seriously as I do.

Being a good patient is a win-win situation.  First, it empowers one to learn about his or her disease and implement that education into daily self-care.  Second, being a good patient means the respect often goes both ways.  When the patient is “good,” the doctor can recognize the patient’s positive attitude and seriousness and respond in a more helpful, effective manner.

After four years with diabetes and too many medical appointments to count, I have learned how to successfully navigate a trip to the doctor’s office.   Even though it takes some work and preparation, the payoff is priceless.  So, how can you become a good patient?

1:  Be on time, or better yet, be early.    Respect the time of the doctor and staff.  After all, when it is your turn, you want the doctor to give you his or her full attention, not cut out of the appointment early or arrive late.   

2:  Be prepared.  Bring your medications, your paperwork, your insurance card, your payment, and whatever else the visit requires.  Also, bring a list of questions to address with your doctor during your appointment.   Doing these things saves everyone time and effort that can be better spent addressing your specific medical needs.  

3:  Be responsible.   If you get white coat syndrome (meaning that doctor appointments make you nervous and scattered), take charge by writing down what the doctor says or asking a friend to accompany you and serve as a second listener and advocate.  Some doctors will allow you to use a voice recorder during the appointment. 

4:  Be honest.   Do not lie to your doctor about any bad habits you have (smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, not checking blood sugars often enough, skipping medications).   Not speaking up will compromise your care.   A doctor can offer suggestions on how to make positive changes. 

5:  Be vocal.   If you are uncertain about how to manage a certain part of your disease, speak up.  If you have heard about a new diabetes treatment, ask about it.  If you are experiencing bothersome side effects from a medication, tell your doctor.  Harboring questions or concerns will not better your diabetes management. 

6:  Be brave.  If you’re having a problem, even though it might be embarrassing, bring it up.   Doctors have heard and seen it all.  In the end, you are the one who will suffer if the problem isn’t brought to your doctor’s attention.     If you aren’t sure how to approach the subject, practice how you will bring up your problem to your doctor before you attend the appointment.

7:  Be confident.  You are in charge of your diabetes management.  Your doctor is your coach, but he or she is not the one on the court on a day-to-day basis.   You can instill confidence in your capabilities by educating yourself, attending your appointments, and weighing your doctor’s opinion carefully.   It’s OK to challenge your doctor in a respectful manner.

8:  Be active.  If you are dissatisfied with the care you are receiving, address your concerns with your doctor or find another doctor.   If you leave your doctor appointments feeling neglected, underappreciated, or discouraged, make changes to create a more positive medical care experience.

9:  Be thankful.   Many of us have had negative experiences with doctors, but there are some great doctors out there. When you find one, be thankful and verbalize that gratitude.  Also, do not neglect the staff who support the doctor.  Smile, be polite, say “please” and “thank you,” and have an overall good attitude.  A positive doctor-patient relationship is crucial to excellent diabetes management.

10. Be yourself.

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