5 Tips for Working with Doctors

5 Tips for Working with Doctors

5 Tips for Working with Doctors

When it comes to figuring out how health care works and doesn’t work, nothing does the trick better than living through an emergency, accident or serious health issue.

When my son was 24 years old, he was in a car accident. A tractor-trailer pulled out in front of him on a major highway. Needless to say, his injuries were serious. He spent 10 days in intensive care with internal injuries and traumatic brain injury. It was a few more months of brain and physical therapy to get him back to his old self.

Overall, his care was excellent. The emergency trauma staff and intensive care doctors were amazing. Not only did they keep him alive and take care of his injuries, but they kept us posted on his progress and explained everything he was going through. The medical staff at the rehab hospital told us what to expect and eased our minds when his progress concerned us.

I learned a lot through my son’s accident and recovery. Here are some tips from my first-hand experience: 

  1. Talk to the doctor. While the nurses know their stuff and are the ones taking care of you, the doctor is the one making the decisions. Whether you have a life-or-death story like ours, or you’re dealing with a chronic condition like joint pain or heart issues, you need the doctor to explain everything to you and let you be part of the decision-making process – which is why it’s important to get a PCP.
  2. Get it in writing. When you are dealing with complicated health issues, either take notes or ask for a print out of the doctor’s notes at each visit. You won’t remember everything you discussed. Having something to look back at will keep you on track with doing your part. We put a binder together of everything related to our son’s care, including print outs of images and blood test results.
  3. Trust your instinct. We have an HMO, so our primary care physician (PCP) was in charge of coordinating with the hospitals and specialists throughout our son’s treatment, as well as managing all the follow-up care when he left the hospital. We were concerned that the doctor wasn’t on top of things. In this situation, we felt our son’s life was in jeopardy if his care wasn’t carefully managed. If you are frustrated with how things are going or don’t feel like your needs are being taken care of, you have the right to share those concerns with your doctor. Be open. Then, if things don’t improve, think about finding another doctor. We did and it made a world of difference to our peace of mind and, more importantly, to his care.
  4. Remember: YOU are the customer. This is your health. Yes, you are dealing with medical professionals and insurance experts, but they are being paid to take care of YOUR needs. Expect to be kept in the loop, don’t hesitate to ask questions, and don’t shrink away if you don’t agree with something or aren’t satisfied with the answers you’re getting.

    I'm going to cheat here -- number 5 isn’t really about working with doctors, but it’s an important point to make.

  5. Keep your insurance company in the loop. The day after the accident, I called the main Customer Service number listed on my Blue Cross and Blue Shield member ID card. Right away it put my mind at ease knowing my insurance company was managing the bills, so we could focus on my son’s care. When I had a question about a claim, they had answers. When we had concerns about the PCP, they stepped in. They also assigned us a case manager, who stayed in regular contact with us to help with referrals, paperwork and making important choices. She even had a Blue Cross and Blue Shield doctor look at his CAT scan to give us a second opinion when we had concerns about the findings.  

Taking care of you and your family is a team effort. Your doctor may ask you to make some tough decisions. Make sure you understand your options and make your wishes known. A good relationship with all the medical team doesn't just make it easier to deal with a serious injury or illness – it could be key to getting back to good health.

Originally published August 18, 2015; Revised 2019, 2022