I have personally come to realize the importance of properly screening physicians before accepting their services, unfortunately this new found knowledge comes only after struggling for nearly 3 years to receive a proper diagnosis.
The phone rang and I glanced at the caller I.D. before answering. I saw that it was my doctors office calling and I remembered my doctors, "no news is good news" rule when waiting for lab results. I continued to listen to the phone ring while I mentally prepared myself for the worst. I hadn't heard anything in almost a week and was sure that my results were negative.
The answering machine picked up and I debated whether or not to interrupt the nurse as she began to leave a message. I sighed and decide that my mind was as ready as it was ever going to be.
I could hear the crackle in the nurses voice as she asked me if I were sitting down. The moments to come were some of the longest and most anticipated in my life. "Your Lupus results are positive3..." she went on to tell me that she was really very sorry to give me this news and some other stuff about, "hope your ok.". Understandably the rest of the conversation was a blur.
So many thoughts shifted around in my mind, with good thoughts replacing bad and bad thoughts replacing good. The emotion I will never forget most is the sheer relief I felt just to finally know what was wrong with me. I was almost happy. Although obviously being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease is far from good news was however; better than the trial I had been subjected to pre diagnoses.
I was seen by a merry go round of different physicians who claimed I had everything from M.S. to a nervous breakdown. Told that I needed to lose weight and I would be fine and even more elequently told, it was all in my head.
I now accept that had I done my homework before hand I could have saved myself a lot of time and frustration. All has not been lost in my journey, because I have learned to accept that the field of medicine is more an art form than an exact science, and have come to the realization that some doctors spend more time than others perfecting their craft.
Somehow in my narrow understanding of the healthcare field I placed physicians on an undeserving pedestal, deeming them wise and holier than thow. I have now down graded their ranking to somewhere around, only human; and that's ok. I can accept the field of medicine is constantly changing and growing I cannot accept however; a physician who does not make it his priority to stay abreast of such changes in the their chosen field.
During doctor visits I had unknowingly adopted a form of white coat effect/theory1, not in the sense that my blood pressure was rising, but my feelings of inferiority were. One can imagine how difficult it would be to recieve equal treatment under such circumstances.
Because of this imbalance of power I soon applied a more proactive approach to not only finding the right physician, but also establishing a game plan for my treatment regimine. Although getting to this point of assertiveness has been a long rigorous road, it is now more simplistic since application of these simple rules for screening physicians:
There are wonderful websites that aid in investigating a doctors work history or disciplinary board actions. And if all else fails you are also able to ask a physician for his CV or Curriculum Vitae. In english CV its a beefed up resume which highlights things such as: Education, Work History and published work typically appearing in peer edited journals, etc.
MD nationwide/Cost: $19.95
Health Grades/Cost: $29.95
These are only a few of the vast selection that exists. You may even find that the medical group or hospital a particular doctor belongs to will actually offer that information on their web site.
2. Research Your Symptoms
Without knowing what kind of treatment others with your disease normally receive, you will have no way of knowing if what's prescribed is right for you. Its important to dig deeper into your diagnosis rather than smiling and nodding your head while your doctor talks circles around you using medical jargon.
Some doctors openly solicit consultations but some do not. It is ok to request a more informal meet and greet with a physician, and I have not personally heard of any doctor saying no to such a meeting. You have to remember that you are relationship building and just as you want someone who is qualified to help you, they want a patient that they are actually able to assist.
- Have your questions ready beforehand. That way your less likely to find yourself suddenly remembering questions, when you get in your car.
- Write down your most important questions first in case time just doesn't allow you to get through them all.
- Take notes of their responses and ask them to kindly respond in laymen terms.
- Take a friend with you. Sometimes a good friend can be even better at expressing your concerns or thoughts than you are. Afterwards they can provide you with feedback as to whether or not they believe the two of you to be a good fit.
Remember, this is relationship building and if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a serious disease that requires ongoing treatment; its a relationship that will be long term, and therefore should be one that can be tolerated for the duration of the necessary treatment.
4. Ask Questions
I find that too many people, including myself, walk out of their physicians office feeling empty and confused. This is a valid feeling especially if you are not asking the right questions to begin with.
5. Keep Detailed Records
A friend gave me the most wonderful advise to keep my own medical chart handy at all times. This is invaluable because many times things can be misplaced or out right lost by a busy practice of any kind so being able to reach into your file and pull out whatever is needed for that physician is crucial. If this seems like a bit much consider that 90% of medical malpractice cases in the U.S. were filed by plaintiffs who claimed death or injury occured as a result of such malpractice2. So bottom line is that malpractice happens and keeping your own records is a way to protect against it.
It also should help to know that you are not alone and that although the job of juggling doctors, and appointments, and treatments and medicines and so on can be tedious; the power for change comes from within and the hope lies within finding the right physician to meet your individual needs.
1 White Coat Effect Retrieved July 7, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_coat_effect
2 (2001). Medical Malpractice and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001. Retrieved July 6, 2008, from Bureau of Statistics Programs US Dept. of Justice * Office of Justice Website: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/mmtvlc01.htm
3 Unfortunately their is not one single test that can diagnose lupus in and of itself. My diagnosis came after many tests were performed and the nurse gave me the results of my ANA test. The ANA is one of the many tests performed when Lupus is suspected.