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Talking is key in health care

(ran TP edition)

When all is said and done, you have the final word regarding your health care needs.

Be prepared. Form a partnership with your doctor. For the best possible medical care, you need to work together. Here are a few tips on how to establish an open line of communication with your physician.

Tell your doctor you want to be a partner in treatment decisions. Indicate to your physician you want to be involved in decisions regarding referrals, tests, treatments and consultations. If you do not speak up your physician may assume you don't want to be involved. Also indicate you want to know approximate costs, benefits and risks of a treatment before care is given. If necessary, give your doctor a letter outlining your thoughts and concerns. This way you can develop a mutual plan of action.

Prepare for office visit. Make a list of the questions you want to ask your doctor. Bring an up-to-date list of all medications you are taking. Write down your chief complaint. Try to describe pain on a rating scale of one to 10. Describe exact location of pain and when it occurs. Write down what the doctor tells you. If you are feeling too sick to go alone, bring a friend. This way someone else can hear what the doctor tells you to do. If you are afraid you will forget, tape-record the doctor's answer, with his or her permission. This will save phone calls to the doctor's office later.

Tell the doctor exactly how you feel. When the doctor asks, do not say okay if you are not okay. You should be able to communicate with your doctor. If you are upset or worried, say so. If you stopped taking your medications because they made you sick or you did not fill the entire prescription because it cost too much, let your doctor know.

Explore alternative plans of care. Ask your doctor to start with a conservative approach first or the lowest dose of a medication and then increase if necessary.

Always ask why before agreeing to treatment and medications. You should be aware of why you are taking a specific medication, its side effects and how to take it properly.

Be informed. Read up on your condition. There may be other options available to you. Request a second opinion if you want one.

Keep good records. Keep a log book of your visits. Record when insurance claim form has been filed.

It is important that you and your doctor are able to maintain open lines of communication. You both have a responsibility to each other. Consider having a Living Will in the event you are unable to voice your opinion. Appoint a Health Care Surrogate, let your physician, family, lawyer and friends know how you feel and what your wishes are regarding your health care needs.

If you are not satisfied or are unhappy over your care or the way the office staff treats you, tell your doctor. This way you give them a chance to change. If no changes are made and you still feel you are just a number in the office and the doctor is walking out the door before you can ask your questions, then maybe you need to find another doctor who can join you in "partnership" for your health care needs. You are a very important person, so please take good care of yourself.

Helene Golabek is manager of SeniorCare at University Community Hospital in Tampa.

This monthly column is provided by the Area Agency on Aging for Hillsborough County. It is written by local experts and members of the agency's advisory board. If you need information on this topic or other information or services, call the agency's Better Living for Seniors Helpline at 653-7709.