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    Posted January 2, 2014 by
    South River, New Jersey

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    How Patients Can be Their Own Advocates


    By: Linda Girgis, MD, FAAFP


    I often have patients come for their visits and don’t remember what medications they are taking. When I ask them, they tell me it is “the little white pill”. Well, a great majority of medications are white and little. So, this description is not going to help me. Even seeing a picture of the pill will not solve the mystery. Many times I will ask a patient why they are taking a specific medication. They will not know. Sometimes, a medication that is usually used to treat high blood pressure can also be used to treat kidney disease or heart failure. Some seizure medications can be used to treat chronic pain or depression. It is important to know what medications you are taking and why you are taking them.
    I have given talks at the senior centers and I always ask patients to be their own advocates. In the days when we are all talking about EHR’s and big data, nothing will help the patient unless they take their medications. One of the main reasons that patients do not take their medications every day is because they do not understand the importance of why they need to. I give the following tips to patients about taking charge of their own health:

    1. Know what medications you are taking AND why. I ask them to bring their prescription bottles to their doctor’s visits. I have found many times patients are taking a generic medication and the brand name of the same medication.  Thus, they were unaware that they were taking double the recommended dose.

    2. Know when you need refills. Don’t wait until there is 1 pill left. I cannot call a prescription when the pharmacy is closed. Often, I am busy seeing other patients and can’t do it right away. I do send all refills the same day requested, but patients get nervous thinking they will run out. When you are down to your last week of pills, that is the time to call for the refill.


    3. Make a list of questions when you come for your office visits. Many patients forget some of their questions and call back later. This may result in phone tag. If you have them written in front of you, you can get all your concerns answered while in front of the doctor.


    4. If you have had surgeries, please know what was done exactly. I have seen patients with belly pain and surgical scars who don’t know what was done to them. It makes a big difference if they had their appendix or gallbladder already removed. If you have a complicated medical history, keep a written list of everything so the doctor is sure to know you’re complete medical information. While we are all striving for interoperability of EHR’s, we are not there yet. Also, computer systems go down.


    5. Understand informed consent. You know all those forms the doctors or hospital ask you to sign before you have a procedure? One of these forms explains the risks and benefits of that procedure. Make sure you understand all of them so there are no surprised afterwards. If you don’t understand, ASK!


    6. Don’t lie! If you are not taking your medications or not watching what you are eating, we are not going to judge you for this. But, it will help us determine what course of medical treatment may be best to follow. And a secret: most doctors can tell when you’re lying anyway.


    In order to receive the best from available healthcare, you truly need to advocate for yourselves. With the plethora of medications available, it is no longer feasible to say you take the little white pill and expect the healthcare community to readily know what it is. As we await technology to be upgraded to make medical data easily available and systems interoperable, you still need to take charge of your own health. An EHR is not going to make you feel the importance of why you need to take the medications you should be taking: only you can do this. And this can be accomplished only when you stand up and become a partner with your doctor to develop the best treatment plan individualized for you.

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