By: Dr. Akua Ampadu, MD

A lesson both the pandemic and racial inequities have taught us, within the medical system, is that the general health must make their health a priority. Taking an active role in someone’s health can empower the individual, as well as communities and generations surrounding them. As a physician, I have realized that by just taking a few key steps before and during an encounter with a healthcare provider, patients can take a pivotal role in managing their care. 

Step 1: Know Your Rights

During a hospital stay it is important to know the Patient Bill of Rights, which was introduced by the American Hospital Association in the 1970s, and indicates the expectations and guarantees one should have when hospitalized. This document is also available for viewing at hospitals, and can be provided upon request. Some of the key points of the bill address the right to treatment regardless of race, age, gender identity, or source of payment. It also consists of the right to refuse medication or treatment with the explanation of medical consequences. As a patient, you also have every right to know the names of the individuals who are involved in your care, as well as having privacy and confidentiality of your diagnosis and treatment. In addition, you also have rights to your own medical records, which can cost a small fee, as well as language services for an interpreter.

Step 2: Know Your Medical History

As the old adage states, knowledge is power, which is true within the medical world. Knowing everything about your medical history limits questioning and confusion, which may come up during medical management. Some important information to remember is:

  • What does your blood pressure usually run?
  • What surgeries have you had in the past?
  • What allergies are you aware of and what are the reactions you experience?
  • What is the dosage of your medication and how many times a day do you take it?

Knowing this and other vital information not only helps you stay informed but also aids the provider in giving you appropriate care. Everything from medication side effects to lifestyle changes that can improve health should be reviewed during your primary care office visits. It is also helpful to write down any questions or thoughts prior to your appointment, in order for you to clearly discuss any of your concerns. Also consider having someone who you feel comfortable discussing your medical health with, during your visit, as they can describe symptoms you don’t realize you have or express issues you are unable to discuss. It is also important to ask about legitimate resources; like websites, where you learn more about your medical condition and general well-being.

Step 3: Share Your Concerns If You Don’t Understand the Information Provided

Remember, do not be afraid to share your concerns, if you do not understand what is being said. 

While it is common for clinicians to use medical jargon, which many are unfamiliar with; it is better to speak up rather than walking away from an appointment without an idea of what is going on with your health. 

“Patients should also play an active role in their health in ways that can enhance their quality of life.”

Step 4: If Necessary, Change Providers to Receive the Care You Need

Lastly, realize that it is okay to change providers. You do not need to stay with the same doctor if you feel as if you aren’t receiving adequate care, your concerns are not being addressed, or you are having issues with communication. At the end of the day, you know your body better than anyone, so if you feel it is time to move on, listen to your intuition. 

Managing health is not solely the responsibility of the patient or the physician. While it is the goal of the physician and all health care workers to provide each patient with the time, patience, and respect necessary to deliver sufficient care. Patients should also play an active role in their health in ways that can enhance their quality of life. By knowing your rights, expressing needs and desires, being informed, and playing an active role in developing your plan of care will help promote independence and optimal health and wellness. 

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