Creating your care team is a huge part of living well with autoimmune disease. Your healthcare providers can be anything form MDs to acupuncturists, but no matter who they are, it’s important to make sure they are on your same page about your health goals and wellness strategies. So, how do you make sure everyone’s in alignment?
Today, we’re giving the floor to Christina Tidwell of Live Well with Christina to share with you a detailed overview of how to work with your MD or primary care doctor. Keep an eye out below for a link to Christina’s handy Appointment Checklist so you can get the most out of your health care visits.
Talking to Your Doctor
Have you ever gone to a doctor’s appointment with questions, concerns, and data you’ve gathered, and been unable to get a word in before the doctor had to whizz off to her next patient? Or have you voiced concerns about your current treatment plan and asked for alternative options only to be met with a statement such as “this is how things are done.” Or maybe you don’t even know what questions you would ask your health care providers if given the chance because you feel confused and overwhelmed?
Autoimmune disease can be complex, so you may have encountered these all too common experiences as you’ve gone from health care provider to provider looking for answers.
I’ve been through this all myself throughout the course of my 14-year journey with autoimmune disease. I’m also a Registered Nurse and Holistic Health Coach and I’ve learned a lot about how to get the best care out of our (imperfect at times) health care system.
I want to share four tips with you today about how to maximize your doctor’s office visits and avoid the frustration of not feeling cared for or not having your needs met.
1. Build a Care Team
As patients, we often put trust in our health care providers and believe that they hold the answers to all of our problems, the antidotes to our ailments. In the model of health care practiced today we expect to go to our doctors with problems and leave with a magic pill to cure us. The best fix is an easy fix right? In some cases this model definitely works. But as humans we are complex beings and it is rare that a quick fix pill will actually work to resolve our underlying issues, especially in relation to chronic autoimmune disease.
I found that when I relied solely on my Rheumatologist to provide me with guidance on how to feel better in all areas of my life (diet, digestion, sleep, movement, stress), I left feeling frustrated and angry when I was told that medications were my only option. When I realized that the doctor was able to help me with bloodwork and pharmaceuticals (his expertise) and that I needed to gather a care team to help support me in other areas of my life, I was able to better understand his role in my care.
Yes, it would be great if we had one practitioner who was able to meet all of our needs (and some of you might! There are great holistic practitioners out there adopting a more whole person approach). I find in relation to chronic disease, however, that it’s best and most realistic to have a team of people to help support you in different areas of your life.
For example my care team over the years has consisted of my rheumatologist, my functional medicine nurse practitioner, acupuncturist, therapist and nutritionist. Other ideas of people to add to your care team would be physical therapists, naturopaths, or health coaches (to name a few).
I do find it important to have one person who is steering the ship (and others to help support that game plan) so you don’t have competing recommendations from multiple practitioners.
2. Provide Quality Data First
I surveyed a number of doctors to ask them what is the most helpful way to receive information in office visits. What I found was that practitioners need and want to be presented with concrete and accurate data first so they can begin to use their expertise to synthesise it and make recommendations.
It’s really helpful if you have recorded metrics that are relevant to your diagnosis such as blood pressure, symptoms, pain level etc. over time so the provider can see the full picture. It’s also helpful to have a full medication and supplement list handy so they have all of the information available to them. You can download my Appointment Checklist I’ve created to organize your health metrics, present the most relevant data that your doctor needs in order to make diagnoses and create a care plan, get all of your important questions answered and facilitate a better therapeutic relationship with your care provider here.
The practitioners surveyed indicated that they like to have all of this data at the beginning of the visit, and then at the end hear what the patient or client believes the diagnosis or issue to be. It was important to these particular practitioners that they get the patient’s opinion concerning what they believed the issue to be, as they truly valued that insight, they just wanted to have the entire picture available to them first in order to make informed decisions.
I find if I go into an appointment with a firm idea of what I believe the issue to be and how I want it to be treated with no room for discussion (even if I am likely correct), it cuts off the chance for the practitioner to make a fully informed decision and limits the discussion of options and alternatives for a plan of care.
If you do this and still feel as though you are coming up against a wall with your provider, refer to the next steps.
3. Ask, “What else could it be?”
My favorite question to ask at the end of an office visit, and a question that the doctors say is the most helpful, is, “What else could it be?” This allows the provider to begin to make a differential diagnosis where she can explore other thoughts and options in relation to your diagnosis or a plan of action. This question allows you to create a dialogue with your practitioner about other alternatives so you are both on the same page.
4. A Therapeutic Relationship is Key
We are all so unique and our health is impacted by many factors such as our genetics, personal history, diet and lifestyle, stress levels, and overall satisfaction with life. No doctor is going to have the vast amount of experiential knowledge that we have of our own bodies. You are the only one that possesses that wealth. This is why it’s so vitally important that we learn to work in conjunction with our health care providers and add our own expertise to theirs.
We must become our own advocates and enter into a relationship with our health care providers where we are playing as part of the team rather than standing on the sidelines. If you don’t feel like you are working with someone who is willing to listen to your needs, it’s ok to find another practitioner! It might sound scary to “fire” a doctor, but it’s well within your right to seek someone else out who is a better fit. It’s your health and you deserve someone on your team who is willing to listen and collaborate with you.
I hope these tips help you to make the most out of your doctors visits and create a care team that truly understands you! I’ve collaborated with physicians and RNs to create a handy Appointment Checklist for you to get the most out of your health care visits. It’s a great way to organize your visits for you to get the care you need and deserve. Download your checklist here.