Ask, Don’t Tell: Creating Better Healthcare the Patient Advocate Way

by | Oct 6, 2017

The Internet has changed health advocacy

We live in the information age. Thanks to the internet, we have access to more data, more research, and more advice than any other generation. All of that information is right at our fingertips, carried around in our pockets, and accessible with just a few clicks.

It has affected every area of our lives, including the doctor-patient relationship. This is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, patients and their health advocates are becoming more knowledgable about what to expect for their healthcare. More and more people are not only able to become their own advocate, but are also able to advocate for their loved ones.

On the other hand, that knowledge can bring arrogance. After a quick search, patients can think that they have an M.D. from “Google University,” and think that they have correctly diagnosed their symptoms and discovered the necessary treatment. While Google is a fantastic resource for general knowledge, it is dangerous to rely on it for a specific diagnosis. Patients can lose trust in their doctor if their doctor comes to a different conclusion, and refuse to listen to their doctor’s diagnosis and follow necessary treatment. Additionally, a doctor can see an over-reliance on internet research as an insult to his or her doctor’s years of education and experience. This can further damage the doctor-patient relationship, and lead to worse patient care and experience.

Communication is the key to a thriving doctor-patient relationship

Patients and their health advocates need to find a balance between holding their health providers accountable to their expectations, and respecting their doctors’ expertise and real-life experience. Trisha Torrey, the founder of the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, provides one simple piece of advice: ask, don’t tell.

To introduce to providers what we’ve learned online (or from any other resource), we should not be explaining. We should not be definite. We should not be TELLING.

Telling will put the provider on the defensive. He or she will probably be polite, but will internally be angry, frustrated, feeling second-guessed… Instead we should be ASKING. Because asking begs collaboration.

Instead of “I went online and I think my symptoms point to Disease X”, the better approach is, “I read about Disease X which seemed to align with my symptoms. Have you ruled that out? Can you tell me why you chose Disease Z as my diagnosis instead?”

This approach respects the provider’s expertise and experience, yet invites a conversation.

Highlight Summary: Don’t stop researching your health options, and don’t stop holding your healthcare providers accountable. However, for the benefit of your relationship with your doctor, you should balance your research with respect for your doctor’s expertise. Begin a conversation with your healthcare provider, ask them about the research you have performed, and work together to find the right treatment. By maintaining a good doctor-patient relationship, you can ensure the best care for you and your loved ones.

Our Patient Advocate Office is ever just an email or phone call away: 703-222-1300 – we’re happy to help! A phone call is free and it could save a life or reduce a large hospital bill.

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