How to Get the Most Out of Your Medical Care


As an allergist, I deal with acute worsenings of chronic diseases. As a primary care doctor, I only had time to mop up the wet floor from the leaky faucet. As a specialist, I try to figure out what is the cause of the leak and fix it. Unfortunately, most patients don’t understand how they can help their physicians diagnose and take the best care of them.

As a specialist, I believe passionately in a team approach and in comprehensive care. It is frustrating when patients set up roadblocks to their care or ask a perfectionist to cut “significant” corners. I hope this article gives you practical points on how to get the most of your medical care or at least a better understanding of how physicians are trying to help you.

Many physicians ask you to fill out a questionnaire. Please take the time to read them carefully, answer them specifically with details and gather as much appropriate information (other physicians evaluations/labs/x-rays). Many patients wait until the last second, don’t request the other records or have some other family fill out the questionnaire incompletely. The more specific info the physician has, the better job he can do diagnosing and treating your condition and save you money on not ordering unnecessary tests or inappropriate medications (such as drugs or doses that failed in the past) or having you schedule extra appointments.

Most physicians try to approach your problem in a step wise cost efficient manner. If you never get the tests that he recommends or you never take the medication as recommended and see if you respond to that medication, then when you finally come back for the persistence or worsening of your symptoms; he may employ the “shot gun” approach of giving many drugs at once or ordering many tests.

Many patients don’t even take the samples that are given to them, fill their prescriptions or call the physician if they are unable to afford them. Or they hope the problem will go away “naturally.”

It is important for patients to openly discuss their concerns with their physician on why they are reluctant to follow their recommendations even if they may be embarrassed. Their physician can best address their specific concerns or fears and support them if they are honest with themselves and with him. Many patients assume that the physician will intuitively “know” what their reasons are. If physicians then assume that reluctance may be due to financial concerns, the patient may be further embarrassed. If concerns about potential side effects or drug interactions aren’t discussed, then the patient may be less likely to take the recommended treatments.

If patients are in denial about their condition, they may minimize their symptoms and may even be fearful of them. They may not remember or keep their appointments. Yet they may expect their physician to care more about them than they do themselves.

I have found that most physicians are tremendously compassionate, but that they too, as humans will develop “compassion burnout” if patients don’t participate meaningfully in their own health care. Please do not view physicians trying to control you as an authority figure, but as educated and experienced guides who wish to make sure you are appropriately diagnosed. In following the doctor’s advice you can achieve adequate control of your symptoms and optimize your quality of life.

Ask yourself, how can you improve upon your portion of the relationship with your physician and use your limited time with him or her more effectively. It is your choice whether you want to deepen that bond or seek another physician with a different style. Ultimately, it is your health and your responsibility.

Dr. David Coutin can be reached at or 541/382-1221


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