Have You Done Your Homework?
No, I am not channeling your mother scolding you to crack the books and get your school work done. Instead, I want you to be prepared for your next encounter with your doctor. As much as we might have delayed completing it in our school years, doing the homework is a critical part of every medical appointment these days. We are undergoing major changes in how healthcare is delivered to us and more than ever, as patients we have a responsibility to be an active participant in our care. This includes doing the often dreaded homework and there are a number of ways I do this.
I’m big into researching and understanding my condition – whether I am going for an appointment with my neurologist or to my cardiologist, gastroenterologist, podiatrist or even my primary care physician – I want to know as much as possible in advance so I can have an informed conversation with the doctor. Where do I gather this information? Most of it comes via my friend, Dr. Google, that helps me discover websites dedicated to multiple sclerosis. We all know the internet can be a wonderful source but I am also picky about what sites I trust for my information. We also all know there are many false claims on the internet so we can’t believe everything we read. The major multiple sclerosis advocacy organizations all have reliable up to date information on their websites and can be trusted. The same with the companies who make our MS drugs – each of them has their own website full of information about this disease. I also get information from talking with others who have MS – I may do this online in chatrooms, via social media sites or in person at local support programs. My peers who live with MS are a great source of information as well.
A major part of my homework assignment is to make a list of items I want to talk with my doctor about; their time is limited once they come into the examination room and it’s critical I make the best use of it. My list might have ten things I want to discuss, but I know we will probably only have time to cover the top 3 or 4 items, so I prioritize them in order of importance. This list also serves as a memory aid so I don’t forget any of the things I want to discuss; making lists is critical for those of us who might have cognitive problems with our MS. Just as if I were sitting in a desk at school, I take notes during my doctor appointment so I might refer to them later. Unlike those days though, I’m not searching for paper and pencil for these notes and I make my lists and notes directly into my tablet or smartphone. If it is a complex conversation I might even ask the doctor if it is ok to use my smartphone to record our talk so I can refer to it later.
The other list I prepare for my appointments is my drugs – this includes prescriptions, supplements and other over the counter treatments I might take. No matter how much I study and do the homework, I always fail the pop quiz when the nurse is asking me about my current medications and I can’t quickly recite the list. Again, my devices come to the rescue when I have kept my lists current.
Perhaps this is only me and displays a touch of obsessive-compulsive behavior, but the final homework piece I do for my appointments is to reconfirm what time and day I should show up. There’s nothing worse than the telephone call asking if I want to reschedule my missed appointment when I am thinking it is really scheduled for next week. Beyond embarrassing, it also usually means I will have another long period of time to wait before I can get another appointment because my doctors are all in high demand. The calendar function on my smartphone only works if I enter the appointment information correctly.
Those of us who are engaged in our healthcare know the importance of being an active participant and that includes doing the homework. We can’t get a free pass any longer with the excuse the dog ate it, so get busy and don’t forget to do your homework.
Wishing you well,