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Informed Patients Take Charge

Savvy patients arrive at their doctors’ offices, printouts in hand and ideas about treatment in mind. Whether they want to try a new therapy they’ve read about, question their diagnoses or avoid a drug because of its side effects, these patients have ruffled some feathers in the medical establishment.

In today’s Washington Post, Marc Siegel, an internist and associate professor of medicine, describes his transition from being “a card-carrying member of the group of doctors who resent know-it-all patients” to having “an appreciation for patients who inform themselves.”

According to Siegel, instead of being in charge, “a physician is most effective when he or she isn’t defensive, but acts as an interpreter of information and guide of treatment, leaving the ultimate control to the patient.”

In support of a cooperative relationship between patient and doctor, the article examines the benefits that self-informed patients enjoy. Like higher satisfaction with treatment and, as several studies indicate, better outcomes.

Just what we wanted to hear!

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Sugar: Not Just for Mary Poppins

A patient’s perception of a doctor can change instantaneously when the doc treats them like a person, not a collection of symptoms. The switch from view the doc as a cold clinician to a caring (or at least attentive) human being is sometimes all that it takes to get the relationship — and thus the health care plan — back on track.

Abigail Zuger describes this experience from an MD’s point of view:

“But with experience came the knowledge that, without those clichés and innumerable others like them, the game is lost before it even begins. When almost every other word out of your mouth is destined to be an unwelcome reminder, dire prediction or insulting remark of some sort, it is really essential to be able to dilute it all with a little harmless verbal goo.”

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Dating Your Doctor

Figuring out how much to disclose about your illness requires a balancing act that often feels like the scale is askew. In January, Laurie Edwards shared the story of a cute guy at a party who didn’t run when she disclosed her illness in more detail than she normally would.

She’s since learned that finding a good doctor and finding a good partner have much in common — including how picky one should be about choosing the person you fall in love with.

Laurie writes:

“A first appointment with a new doctor really is the medical equivalent of a first date. It’s all about the chemistry, that intangible sense that this person is worth another look.”

“Think about the ways we’re trained to evaluate first encounters of the romantic kind: Was he (or she) polite and engaging, or brash and curt? Was the other person merely hearing the words coming out of our mouths or actually listening to them? All of these litmus tests apply once you step into that exam room.”

In addition to writing articles for ChronicBabe, Laurie also has her own blog, Chronic Dose.

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Partnering With Your Health Care Provider

Headache disorders and chronic pain take so much energy that it’s tempting to sit down with your doctor and say, “Fix me.” As good as this sounds, we know it’s impossible. Doctors aren’t mechanics, nor are human bodies as simple as cars. Some people swing the other way, believing that doctors only complicate matters. But it’s hard to forget that health care providers have specialized knowledge that patients need.

Recognizing your relationship with your health care providers as a partnership is a way to feel empowered and get the most useful information from your doctor.

Unfortunately, having your energy and focus depleted by illness can make it difficult to become an active team member. The April issue of HealthyWomen Take 10, a newsletter from the National Women’s Health Resource Center, provides concrete suggestions for becoming a partner with your health care providers.

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Patient’s Sex May Influence GPs’ Treatment of Headache

Women are three times more likely to see a GP about their headaches than men are, but are less likely to be referred to a specialist, according to a study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Medication is also prescribed for women more than men; one in three women and one in four men received drugs. In the age range of 45 to 54, twice as many women as men left the GP’s office with a prescription.

One reason for this discrepancy could be in the types of headaches each sex experiences. Women represent more than two-thirds of adult migraineurs, while six times as many men than women have cluster headaches. Because there is a better understanding of migraine than cluster headaches, GPs may be more comfortable treating migraine than cluster headaches. Thus they treat more women and refer more men.

This can’t totally explain the difference in treatment. The stereotype of the weak or hysterical woman who complains of headaches is so ingrained that it has to influence how they are treated. (If you want to read more about this, Paula Kamen’s exploration of this in All in My Head is excellent.)